Toe-rrific hand surgery saves cobbler David's career after accident | Latest news

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Toe-rrific hand surgery saves cobbler David's career after accident

A cobbler who lost his thumb has been able to return to the job he loves after surgeons at UHDB sewed one of his big toes onto his hand in its place. 

David Lee was trimming the heel of a shoe in his shop when he suddenly became tangled in the machine and, to his horror, watched his severed thumb drop onto the floor.

After freeing himself from the machine, David’s first thought wasn’t about the pain – or lack of it – in his hand, but instead about how he would be able to earn a living after the accident.

He said: “Straight away, I knew how bad it was and I just worried that I wouldn’t be able to fix shoes again. I cried my eyes out when I thought about it, as I thought I was going to lose my shop.

“I was more concerned about that than my thumb because this is my passion. It all happened so fast but I felt no pain at all and straight away just turned all the machines off and actually went outside for a fag, while I waited for the ambulance!”

Toe-riffic hand surgery saves cobbler David's career after accident from UHDB Communications on Vimeo.

After initially going to King’s Mill Hospital in Mansfield, David was quickly referred to the Pulvertaft Hand Centre, at Royal Derby Hospital, where the idea was put to him that a new “thumb” could be created using one of his big toes.  

David added: “As soon as it was put to me that attaching my toe gave me a chance to carry on my job, I instantly said let’s do it. I’d never heard of a procedure like this before but I also knew that the Royal Derby Hospital had the best hand surgical team in the country.”

Five days on from the accident, surgeons spent around 10 hours completing the complex procedure, which has been performed only a handful of times at UHDB and is only considered for patients with certain types of amputations. 

Miss Jill Arrowsmith, one of the two Consultant Hand Surgeons who performed the operation, said: “This procedure is only offered to patients who have lost a lot of their thumb, usually down to close to the knuckle. Not having any of the thumb can be very disabling, especially for those who do a manual job. This type of injury could mean that these patients are not able to remain at work, so we’re delighted to be able to provide this treatment option.

“Toe-to-thumb reconstructions are quite rare but we have been really pleased with all of the outcomes these patients have achieved.  There are lots of different ways to reconstruct thumbs but using the big toe gives the best functional and cosmetic benefits, as it is the thing most like a thumb on the body.

“David has worked really hard to recover after his injury and has done amazingly well. He’s the first master cobbler I’ve ever met, so it’s really nice to hear that he’s back doing what he loves to do.”  

It’s now been just over a year since David’s accident on 9 January 2019, with the specialist team at the Pulvertaft Hand Centre helping him undergo months of rehabilitation to increase his grip strength and get back to normal. 

Thanks to all of his hard work, the cobbler has now returned to his beloved trade and admitted he was “overwhelmed with admiration” for the UHDB staff who have helped him.

He added: “Thank you feels too small to say because what the hospital has done has really meant the world to me. I’m doing what I love again and the team have given me the opportunity to do that. I really appreciate them because, if not for them, I wouldn’t have been able to get to where I am today.”

The Pulvertaft Hand Centre is a long-established specialist hand surgery centre that offers specialist care for a wide-range of different hand and wrist conditions, and promotes the development and use of new and pioneering forms of treatment.

David paid a special visit to Royal Derby Hospital today (24 January) to thank the Pulvertaft team and present them with a UHDB Patient Hero Award.