A Helensville man who accidentally chopped off his left thumb and index finger is starting to regain feeling in them, less than two months after they were reattached in marathon surgery.

Ross Mulholland, 61, yesterday said he could lightly pinch the thumb and finger together to hold a supermarket receipt or a business card.

"The lady at the checkout handed me the docket [and] I grabbed it with my thumb and finger. I think she was trying to see if I could, and I just said, 'Thank you'."

Mr Mulholland's finger and thumb were severed last November 30 when he and a neighbour were splitting firewood in a hydraulic splitting machine. He put his hand into the machine as the splitter came down - he doesn't know why - and the thumb and forefinger fell to the bed of the device.


A team at Middlemore Hospital, headed by plastic and reconstructive surgeon Stanley Loo, spent 14 hours in two operations reconnecting the bones, nerves, blood vessels, tendons, and skin of the thumb and finger.

Until the bones could grow back together they were stabilised by two pins in each digit. The pins were removed this month.

Mr Loo said Mr Mulholland's hand was coming along well and he expected that after three to six months of physiotherapy he would regain 80 to 90 per cent of normal functioning.

Mr Mulholland regularly massages the thumb and finger, wears a pressure glove and has physiotherapy twice a week. He can now move his thumb to touch the finger.

"If I slowly put a bit of pressure on the finger and thumb, they will bend, but I can't go at it like a bull at a gate. It's just got to be gently as she goes."

He said the staff of Ward 35 North played a big part in his recovery: "They were always smiling."