Report: Surgeons amputate first transplanted hand

Saturday, February 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) _ Surgeons in Britain have amputated the hand of the world's first hand transplant patient after he failed to follow the correct treatment, an Australian microsurgeon said Saturday.

In a statement released to the Australian Associated Press, Prof. Earl Owen said the transplanted hand was removed at New Zealander Clint Hallam's request after his body rejected it.

Owen, who was among an international team that transplanted the hand onto Hallam more than two years ago in a groundbreaking 13-hour operation in France, said surgeons removed the hand during a short operation Friday night at an unidentified London hospital.

Following the September 1998 transplant, Hallam infuriated his medical team by regularly losing contact with them and refusing to follow essential drug treatment.

In January 1999, Hallam left the care of his doctors and disappeared for more than two months. ``He reappeared in London and returned to Australia but set up a pattern of repeated failure to stay in the regular care of team members,'' Owen said in the statement.

``We know he voluntarily went without drugs for weeks at a time over the two years and failed to follow the plan he willingly agreed to before the actual transplant was performed,'' Owen added.

``This frustrated our attempts to treat him optimally, making it inevitable that irreversible rejection would intervene necessitating an eventual amputation in the interests of his own health.''

But speaking on Friday night's edition of the British Broadcasting Corporation's ``Newsnight'' current affairs program, Hallam denied he caused the rejection by failing to take his medication.

``At the time that the rejection started I was under a strict regime,'' he told the program. ``The doctors were monitoring almost on a daily basis what medication I was taking.''

He said that he gave up taking the medicine only several months later so that his body could recover from a bout of flu.

``I'm convinced that there has come a stage with the number of rejections that I have experienced that my body or my mind has said, `Enough is enough.'''

Hallam underwent treatment at a West Australian hospital for rejection of the hand last year.

He made international headlines when surgeons grafted the hand of a 41-year-old motorcyclist onto his forearm. Hallam lost his right hand in a chain saw accident while serving a two-year prison sentence for fraud in New Zealand.

Doctors in Louisville, Kentucky, have performed a similar operation since then, and a team led by the French surgeon who attached Hallam's new hand has performed a double arm transplant.

In 1999, Hallam said he hoped one day to learn to play the piano and said he already was performing simple tasks with the hand such as holding a cup of coffee and swimming.