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Metal worker Dewan Chand's right hand was hanging by a shred of flesh after it was caught in a powerful machine.

The 57-year-old right-hander from Otahuhu in South Auckland is employed by an East Tamaki factory which makes steel shelves used in supermarkets and hardware stores.

He was operating a folding press which exerts a 60-tonne force.

His hand was inside the machine when the press came down and crushed his hand, all but cutting it off. He doesn't know how it could have happened.

"I held the hand in my other hand. All the workmates ran. I yelled," Mr Chand said from his bed in Middlemore Hospital yesterday.

"Some of them got the first aid. Some tied cloths [to stem the blood loss]."

Mr Chand and his family shifted to New Zealand from Fiji four years ago.

Plastic and reconstructive surgeon Stanley Loo, orthopaedic hand surgeon Wolfgang Heiss-Dunlop, two registrars and theatre staff worked in shifts to re-attach Mr Chand's hand in an emergency overnight operation on November 8 that took 14 hours.

The injury crushed all of the cluster of small bones in the wrist, the bone in the base of the thumb, half of the next thumb bone, half of the bone in the base of the index finger, and fractured both of the forearm bones. In total, Mr Chand lost 11 bones. Numerous tendons, blood vessels and nerves were severed.

The bones in the base of his middle and ring fingers have been permanently fixed, by two metal plates and screws, to the larger forearm bone, the radius. The resulting hand, which can no longer flex at the wrist, is shortened because of the bone loss.

Mr Loo said yesterday: "Now Mr Chand is more than a week down the track, the hand has a good chance of surviving. He's never going to have a normal hand, but we hope he will get some function out of it."

His fingers are starting to regain a little movement and feeling, but not his thumb, which is lacking a bone.

The plan is to amputate the thumb this month. It will be replaced with the index finger, which is already missing part of one bone.

The index finger will be turned 90 degrees, tilted inwards for a better pinch grip, and screwed on to the base bone of the middle finger.

Mr Chand, who thought he would lose his hand, is full of praise for those who saved it.

His thanks are echoed by another hand patient, Stephen Ellis, of Kaitaia. Half his left hand was sawn off in a sawmill accident in August and was re-attached at Middlemore.

He is having physiotherapy and said yesterday he was starting to use his hand for small tasks.