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Medical first: Surgeons remove man's hand, attach another

Posting in Science

Handy man. Mark Cahill says he is looking forward to getting back to work, tying his own shoes, and playing with his grandkids.

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Hand transplants are old news. But never before had a patient gone to the operating table fully limbed in order to receive a replacement.

That changed on Dec. 27, when 51-year-old British pub owner Mark Cahill took himself and his original 10 fingers into surgery at Leeds General Infirmary in Leeds, England.

Eight hours later, he emerged with a different right hand fully attached at the wrist, the hospital reports in a press release.

"And this little piggy went...." Cahill can now wiggle his fingers thanks to pioneering surgery led by Prof Simon Kay. The two are pictured along with Cahill's wife Sylvia.

"In a new development internationally, the recipient's hand was removed at the same operation as the donor hand was transplanted," the release states.  "This allowed very accurate restoration of nerve structures."

A week after the procedure, Cahill can already wiggle the fingers on his still bandaged hand, which does not yet have a sense of touch.

"When I look at it and move it, it just feels like my hand," Cahill tells the BBC (click the link to see a video of him and surgeon Simon Kay, or watch the video below from the Telegraph). "Right now it feels really good, it's not a lot of pain, it looks good, it looks a great match and I'm looking forward to getting it working now."

Cahill required the procedure because an old case of gout had paralyzed his paw.

The first ever hand transplant was in 1998 in France, performed on New Zealander Clint Hallam, the victim of a circular saw about 10 years earlier. There have been some 60 transplants since then, all involving people without a full set of mitts.

Now, another advance in hand for medical science.

Video from TelegraphTV via YouTube. Photos are screen grabs from the video.

— By on January 3, 2013, 8:09 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure