On Boxing Day two years ago Mark Cahill was enjoying having a few pints when he received a phone call which sobered him up immediately.
It was a doctor at Leeds General Infirmary, (LGI), explaining to him that they might have a match for him – he was set to become the first person in the UK to have a hand transplant.
The beer mist evaporated and his wife Sylvia’s son Daniel drove him to the hospital and tests were carried out which revealed the donor hand was a suitable match.
At 8am on December 27 the former rugby player who was born in Lindley arrived in theatre for the delicate, eight-hour long procedure to begin.
A new technique was used which involved Mark’s non-functioning right hand being removed during the same operation in which the donor hand was transplanted.
Although there have been various ups and downs since the operation Mark says he has never looked back.
Chronic gout was making his life hell with both his hands affected.
The 53-year-old former landlord, who now lives in Greetland, said: “I started with gout when I was 32 in the big toe of my left foot and eventually it spread all over my body.
“Both my elbows had to be operated on and it got into my spine. Six years ago I was in a wheelchair and I absolutely hated it.”
Although, he was fortunate to have a loving and devoted wife, for Mark’s own self-respect and mental well-being, not being able to use his hands left him vulnerable to all manner of social embarrassments from not being able to wipe his own bottom to shaking hands with strangers and friends.
Mark was lucky to the extent that in late 2011 Leeds Teaching Hospitals announced it was starting to look for potential candidates for hand or arm transplants.
An LGI team had been preparing and assessing potential recipients from across the country.
Mark was part of the programme and had to undergo a series of health checks as well as psychological assessments to ensure potential patients had properly considered the implications of the procedure.
Not everyone can come to terms with someone else’s limb becoming part of their body.
And in Professor Simon Kay, a consultant plastic surgeon, he had a man he could trust and whose team would do their very best for him in the inevitable rehabilitation following the operation.
Accurate restoration of nerve structures was one thing but there were a multitude of factors to accommodate in the aftermath including regular physiotherapy, hand exercises and occupational therapy as well as adjusting to a lifetime of taking immuno-suppressant drugs.
The operation was a success and Mark’s life has been transformed though he says it has been a “rollercoaster.” He suffered a rejection scare just three days after the operation and it is a long process of rehabilitation – Mark says “it can take three years for the nerves to come back.”
A screw broke after three months and he had to have a pot put back on so progress was slow but he adds: “I am definitely over 50 per cent better and heading to 75 per cent though I will never get the feeling back completely.
“I don’t have to rely on my wife so much now. I can wash myself in the bath. I could only wash half of my body before.
“I can pick my grandchildren up which is a marvellous feeling though I can’t stand up for very long these days.
“I’m naturally left-handed but I can hold a steering wheel with my right hand now so I might go back to a driving a manual car eventually.
“I can open tins and tie my own tie, use a mobile phone. Shoelaces I can do just about though they are not easy.”
Best of all he can hold a knife and fork properly and tuck into a nice juicy steak in a restaurant without the embarrassment of having to have his food cut up for him first.
And this Christmas he will be able to play with his grandchildren, five-year-old Thomas and seven-month-old Dakota.
Even better, when Boxing Day arrives, he can drink to his heart’s content, knowing there will be no more sobering hospital phone calls.