Crash victim's microsurgery miracle
A former serviceman can now move his fingers for the first time since severing his arm in a car crash a decade ago.
Craig Stewart, from Devon, had been treated in hospitals in England but still had no movement in his left arm - until he was referred to the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery in Morriston Hospital in Swansea.
Over the last three years, surgeons have been painstakingly repairing Mr Stewart's arm, using techniques available in very few places in the UK.
After first undergoing complex microsurgery, which involved taking a muscle from his thigh and using it as a replacement bicep, Mr Stewart was able to move his previously paralysed arm.
Now, following another operation at the Swansea centre, the 32-year-old can also move his fingers.
Ten years ago, Mr Stewart, from Bideford, severed his arm in a car accident not long after leaving the Army.
After being cared for in hospitals in Devon and London, he was referred to specialist consultant plastic surgeon Dean Boyce at the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery.
Mr Stewart said: "My arm was just like a dead weight. I had no control over it, i t would just hang down by my side.
"Then I was referred to Morriston Hospital because there are not many people in the country who can do the surgery.
"Three years ago they took a muscle from the inside of my leg to use as a bicep.
"I needed a lot of physiotherapy and hydrotherapy afterwards, and just under a year after the operation I was able to bend my arm."
Two months ago, a tendon was switched from Mr Stewart's wrist to his hand, allowing him limited movement in his fingers.
This meant some everyday tasks that he had already mastered, such as tying shoelaces, suddenly became much easier.
He added: "I might need another operation to help with the finger flexing but I can grip things better and I have more feeling in my hand now."
Mr Stewart, who works as a forklift driver for Taylor Wimpey, said he had never let his injury get him down.
"It happened and I had to live with it," he said.
"But starting to get everything working again is great - it's a bonus."
The Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery is the only one of its kind in Wales. It is also one of the few places in the UK that can treat injuries to the brachial plexus - the network of nerves in the neck which control upper limb movement.
Surgeon Mr Boyce said Mr Stewart's surgery was incredibly complex.
"We took the gracilis muscle from Craig's inner thigh and microsurgically plumbed it into the blood vessels in the upper arm in order to give him the ability to move his arm," he said.
"There was one partially working nerve in his arm and, using a microscope, we teased this apart and redirected some of it to supply the transplanted muscle.
"We had to wait for six to nine months for the nerves to grow into the new muscle. That is why it took some time for Craig to be able to move his arm."