An Irish builder has had his severed thumb replaced with his big toe in revolutionary surgery in Britain. James Byrne, a 29-year-old paver from Carlow, accidentally cut off his left thumb when sawing through a piece of wood.

Now resident in England, he attended a Bristol hospital where efforts to re-attach the thumb failed.
Plastic surgeon Umraz Khan then transplanted Byrne’s big toe onto his left hand in an amazing operation.

Byrne told the Press Association“Mr Khan re-attached my thumb but it had been badly damaged and although we tried everything, including leeches, to get the blood flowing again it didn’t take.”

The surgeon then suggested the toe transplant – and Byrne, who couldn’t work after the accident, thought he was joking at first.

“I couldn’t lift anything with my left hand,” added Byrne. “You can’t lay one-handed, you might as well go home.”

Surgery took eight hours and Byrne is now getting used to the new look of his hand.

“It looks like a cartoon thumb that has been hit by a mallet,” said Byrne who expects to return to work in a few months after physiotherapy.

“The aesthetics of it don’t bother me, I am just happy that it works.”

The surgeon who carried out the operation is happy with the results.

“It is quite a rare thing to do and is a very complex micro-surgical procedure, which involves re-attaching the bone, nerves, arteries, tendons, ligaments and skin of the toe to the hand,” said Khan.

“James will have to learn to re-balance, without his left great toe, on to the ball of the foot but he will be able to walk and jog normally.

“The thumb is the dominant digit. Without it, James would not be able to do the things that we take for granted, like holding a pen or opening a door.

“It is still early days for him and he might need additional surgery to make it look more like a thumb.”