Warning: This article contains images which some readers may find distressing
A cobbler whose thumb was torn off in a horrific accident at work has had his life given back to him thanks to pioneering surgery.
David Lee was trimming the heel of a shoe last January when his hand got snagged in the machine and his right thumb was cut off.
Somehow the 40-year-old managed to call 999 and was rushed to hospital, where surgeons removed the big toe from his right foot and stitched it to his hand.
Looking back at the traumatic experience, David, who is now back at work, said: “I saw my thumb drop on the floor.
“I had no pain though. I didn’t look initially as I compressed it with my jumper. I calmly turned the machines in the shop off.
“Straight away, I knew how bad it was and I just worried that I wouldn’t be able to fix shoes again.”
He added: “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.”
He was rushed to King’s Mill Hospital, in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, before being transferred to the Pulvertaft Hand Centre, at Royal Derby Hospital, where doctors suggested the toe-to-thumb surgery.
David says when doctors suggested using his toe he didn’t have to think twice, he just wanted to be able to be able to carry on his life as cobbler.
He said: “I thought I’m never going to do my job again and I’m going to lose my business. It was a no-brainer going down this route.
“As a right-handed person, I wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of the job. I was really conscious of it to start with.
“It feels heavy having a toe where the thumb should be. Doing the physio and the strength work in my hand has made it feel more like a normal thumb. I’m hopeful I will be getting more feeling in it.
“A lot of people who have this accident never go back to working on the machine again.
“I was a bit anxious approaching the machine, but fixing the band in the machine again put me at ease.”
He added: “My foot was the problem, it actually wasn’t healing properly. I was walking around too much and wasn’t sitting down with it elevated. I was just so eager to get back to the shop.
“I have even been able to paint again. Its a hobby of mine to paint old shoes that are going to be thrown away.”
David is one of only a handful of people to have undergone the procedure.
Jill Arrowsmith is one of the two Consultant Hand Surgeons who performed the operation, and said she was really happy to be able to give David his life back.
She said: “This procedure is only offered to patients who have lost a lot of their thumb, usually down to close to the knuckle.
“Toe-to-thumb reconstructions are quite rare but we have been really pleased with all of the outcomes these patients have achieved.”
Adding: “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.”