Man's 'Space-Age' Procedure Has Freed Him From His Pain

Scotland's Steven Gallagher, who suffers from sclerodoma, praises his double hand transplant
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 26, 2022 9:56 AM CDT
Updated May 29, 2022 7:10 AM CDT

(Newser) – For years, Steven Gallagher has suffered from pain in his arms and hands, not finding relief even after an operation to address what he believed at the time was carpal tunnel syndrome. Turns out the Scotsman actually has an autoimmune disease that scars the skin and his inner organs, and he's now found a remedy that has given him what he calls a "new lease" on life: a double hand transplant. Per the Evening Standard, the 48-year-old dad of three from the village of Dreghorn suffers from scleroderma, in which one's immune system attacks the body's connective tissue. In Gallagher's case, that led to a rash on his cheeks and nose starting more than a decade ago, as well as "horrendous" pain in his hands.

About seven years ago, "my hands started to close ... to the point where it was basically two fists," he says, per the BBC. "My hands were unusable. I couldn't do a thing apart from lift things." His condition forced him to quit his job as a roof tiler, and things seemed dire—until he spoke with a Glasgow-based plastic and hand surgeon who suggested the double hand transplant. "At the time I laughed and thought, 'That's [a] space-age kind of thing],'" he says. However, after speaking to other experts, Gallagher decided it was a procedure worth pursuing, even after he went through a comprehensive psychological evaluation to make sure he could handle whatever came next—including the risk of him losing his hands altogether. "They said it was unlikely, but it was a risk," he notes.

After consulting with his wife, Gallagher decided to take the leap, and in December, after a donor was found, a team of 30 carried out the 12-hour procedure in Leeds. "From the moment I woke up from the operation I could move them," Gallagher says of his new hands, calling the whole experience "surreal." Gallagher remained in the hospital for a month and now goes to regular therapy to keep improving the usage of his adopted appendages. At the moment, he can't do more complicated fine-motor tasks like buttoning up a shirt, but he's able to accomplish more simple things like turning on the faucet and petting his dog. "Everything's just slowly getting better," he tells the Standard, noting he may even be able to eventually return to work. Most importantly, "now I've no pain at all." (Read more hand transplant stories.)

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