Story transcripts

A Helping Hand

Monday, May 21, 2012

Reporter: Charles Wooley
Producer: Stephen Taylor, Kirsty Thomson

Read the live web chat with Peter Walsh

Last year, we brought you the story of Victorian grand-dad Peter Walsh - Australia's first hand transplant recipient. For Australian medicine, it was a giant leap into the extraordinary world of limb transplant surgery. And for the sports-mad plumber with a brand new hand, it's been life changing. Indeed, the progress he has managed in just over 12 months needs to be seen to be believed.

In Australia, organ and tissue donation is managed by the national DonateLife Network, under the leadership of the Australian government’s Organ and Tissue Authority. The DonateLife Network comprises 161 clinical specialists of organ and tissue donation in 77 hospitals across Australia and 82 organ and tissue donation DonateLife agency staff in each state and territory.

DonateLife agencies facilitate the organ and tissue donation process, support donor families, provide performance data and educate clinical staff and the community on organ and tissue donation. To find out the facts about organ and tissue donation or for more information contact your nearest DonateLife agency or visit

Full transcript:

CHARLES WOOLEY: Last year, we brought you the story of Victorian granddad Peter Walsh, Australia's first hand transplant recipient. For Australian medicine, it was a giant leap into the extraordinary world of limb transplant surgery, and for the sports-mad plumber with a brand-new hand, it's been life-changing. Indeed, the progress he's managed in over 12 months needs to be seen to be believed.

STORY - CHARLES WOOLEY: You'll find a no more willing lawn mower in all of Australia these days than Peter Walsh. Why does he like doing this? Because he can. A new right hand has given Peter, or Plumber as he's known, a wonderful new life.

PETER: It's hard to remember me without it now, you know, I don't know how I used to do things, and I probably didn't do anything much.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Mowing the lawn or driving a car, what we take for granted had long been denied to Plumber. He may be a man of few words, but his determination to reclaim his life to be normal is inspiring to see.

CHARLES WOOLEY: So this is one of yours?

PETER: Yes, yeah.

CHARLES WOOLEY: I first met Plumber early last year before his transplant. Back then he told me how, in 2006, he'd been struck down with pneumococcal disease, and the only way doctors could save his life was by amputating his hands and feet.

PETER: I knew I was in trouble, two or three days with the hands because I couldn't move them. Couldn't move my fingers. They were dead, and then just gradually, gradually went black.

CHARLES WOOLEY: With no limbs, Plumber's future looked grim. But microsurgeon Professor Wayne Morrison came to the rescue.

WAYNE: You can see the fella's had a sun tan, by the look of it.

CHARLES WOOLEY: And last March, in a 10-hour operation at Melbourne's St Vincent's Hospital, he gave Plumber a new hand, and new hope. I know you've had a rough trot, but aren't you a lucky man?

PETER: Yeah, yeah, a good gift. A good gift, you know? Lucky, some people are unlucky. Some families aren't lucky, he left a gift didn't he? And I was the one to get it.

SHANE: Where's the Plumber?

CHARLES WOOLEY: In the weeks following the historic operation, Plumber became quite a celebrity.

PETER: Shane Warne.

SHANE: How are you? Shane.

CHARLES WOOLEY: But the real work came in stopping Plumber's body rejecting the new limb, and getting the new hand working.

PETER: I did think, before I got it, they would stick it on and it'd work pretty well straight away. But by hell, it didn't.

WAYNE: Hello Peter, come in, I haven't seen you for quite a while.

CHARLES WOOLEY: To mark the anniversary of the surgery, Plumber recently met up with Professor Morrison...

WAYNE: Now just make a fist for me, show me…ah, excellent.

CHARLES WOOLEY: ...and was clearly happy to show off.

WAYNE: How'd you go about writing?

CHARLES WOOLEY: It takes a bit to impress Wayne Morrison, but this patient succeeded.

WAYNE: Peter Walsh, there he is, Plumber. So can you sign a cheque?

PETER: Can sign a cheque, they haven't bounced yet.

WAYNE: He's looking much better, healthier, he's less grumpy and he's really on top of his game, back again. He's the old Plumber I think.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Back at home, Plumber and his wife Margaret still can't quite believe what's happened in the last year, but know there's still a long way to go.

PETER: I can do most things. And it'll get better. I reckon it's 50% now, so I'm hoping in another 12 months it might be somewhere near 100%.

Story contacts:

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St Vincent’s Hospital
St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne is a leading public hospital providing acute medical and surgical services, emergency and critical care, aged care, diagnostics, rehabilitation, allied health, mental health, palliative care and residential care, as well as undertaking research and educating the next generation of healthcare professionals. For more information visit:

The O'Brien Institute
The O'Brien Institute at St Vincent’s Hospital has led the way in clinical and experimental research over the past 30 years. The Institute has made striking advances in the delicate craft of replantation surgery and the transfer by microsurgical techniques of body parts and tissue to reconstruct people maimed by trauma, cancer, burns and congenital deformity.
In addition to pioneering techniques in reconstructive microsurgery, the Institute carries out internationally recognised scientific research in the fields of Tissue Engineering and Vascular Biology.
The Institute has also carried out studies on wound healing, nerve regeneration, inflammation, pain, the effects of trauma on tissue, and more recently, prostate cancer.

Victorian Spleen Registry
Peter Walsh lost his limbs after an episode of infection many years after losing his spleen in an accident. People without spleens are at an increased risk of bacterial infections.

The Victorian Spleen Registry would like to inform people who do not have a spleen to make sure they are up to date with antibiotic and vaccinations treatments, to help protect them from similar infections. We would encourage them to discuss this with their doctor or they can also go to the Victorian Spleen Registry website or call (03) 9078 3828.

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