Great-grandmother finally finds relief from painful leg ulcers thanks to UK-first technique using dead donor skin
09:24 GMT, 8 May 2012
A 92-year-old woman has become the first person in Britain to have a wound completely healed – using a skin transplant from dead people.
Great-grandmother Jessie Townley, from Hyde, has suffered from painful leg ulcer sores for two decades, making her life a misery.
Now she says she feels so fit that she would like to go out dancing – after a pioneering operation at Wythenshawe Hospital.
Relief: Jessie Townley had suffered from painful leg ulcer sores for two decades
The hour-long procedure, carried out by NHS doctors, involved transplanting a patch of skin from a donor onto her wound.
Just 10 weeks after the operation, the wound has completely healed, leaving healthy new skin in its place.
Mrs Townley, a retired machinist, is one of 20 patients taking part in a clinical trial at the hospital. NHS chiefs hope it could transform the lives of thousands of others – not only ulcer patients, but also burns victims and people with severe bedsores.
It is estimated that one in a hundred people develop ulcers at some point – costing the NHS around 1bn a year.
The widow, who had four children with her late husband Joseph, 12 grandchildren and seven great grandchildren, said it had given her a new lease of life.
She said: 'I have needed clean dressings twice a week and that has meant trips to hospital. I've been careful not to knock my leg as that can make things worse and over the year it has stopped me from doing things.
'When these lovely doctors and nurses asked me to try this new treatment I thought it might not work for me but it could help younger folk.
'I am delighted with the results and I feel so grateful. I've said if only they could do something for my knees I could go out dancing.'
The Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester where Mrs Townley was treated
The donor skin – known as decellularised dermis – is taken from a dead person and sent to an NHS Blood and Transplant centre in Liverpool for processing.
Mrs Townley's wound was cleaned and a high pressure water spray was used to remove the damaged tissue.
The donor skin – supplied in a 5cm x 5cm patch and cut to fit the outline of the ulcer – was applied to the area and it was held in place by surgical glue.
On the day of the procedure her leg ulcer measured 4.1 x 3cm and it had completely healed just 10 weeks after the operation, leaving healthy new skin in its place.
Ardeshir Bayat, clinical scientist in plastic surgery who is leading the trial, said: 'It is thought that the decellularised dermis attracts the patient's own healing cells into a wound, thereby producing the right healing environment for wound healing.
'Wythenshawe is the only trust in the UK that has been approved to trial this new product and we are delighted not only with Mrs Townley's results, but also with the preliminary finding of other patients on the study.'