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Wednesday, September 1, 1999 Published at 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK


Children love toes on hands

The technique was developed in Leeds

Children are delighted with an operation to have toes transplanted onto their hand, a psychologist has found.

The procedure, which might well be considered strange, is used to help children who are born with hand deformities or who have lost a finger or thumb.

Because the operation is so unusual, Dr Maggie Bellew, a clinical psychologist at St James's Hospital in Leeds, decided to investigate the impact it might have on a child's mind.

On the whole, the 37 children who had the surgery she investigated were extremely happy with it and reported that friends had responded well to the change.

Surgical technique

Dr Bellew questioned children who had the operation at St James's under Mr Simon Kay, a consultant plastic surgeon.

It was developed in 1968, originally to help patients who had lost fingers in an accident.

During the 1970s it was also used on children, and at the St James unit is mainly performed on children who were born with hand abnormalities.

Dr Bellew will use the findings of her study when helping parents decide whether or not to let their children go through with the operation.

Satisfaction rating

The survey found that after one year, children expressed "a high level of satisfaction" with the new transplanted digit.

And Dr Bellew found that the children were even more positive about the results than their parents.

"It was very encouraging because that's the concern parents have - how are children going to live with it?" she told BBC News Online.

"So it's just the sort of thing a parent needs to know - from the child's first hand experience of the toe transfer - that it really is good."

Positive approach

Only 92% of the parents thought the operation had "improved" or "very much improved" their child's hand function.

But all the children thought their hand worked better, with 89% saying it was "very much improved".

The children were also happy with the appearance of their hands, as were their friends.

Dr Bellew presented her findings at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society, which is being held in Leeds.

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