Auckland wood-worker William Longbottom's surgically shifted toe is doing a pretty good job as a thumb.

The right-handed 25-year-old joiner accidentally chopped off his left thumb last June when he was shaping tongue-and-groove door timbers on a spindle moulding machine.

"My thumb slipped in just at the end and got caught on the other side and [the cutter] took it off," he said afterwards.

Only fragments of the severed thumb were found, so in a 10-hour operation at Middlemore Hospital a team of four surgeons and other health workers amputated the second toe of Longbottom's right foot (he is left-footed) and stitched it into place as his new left "thumb".


After the operation, he told the Herald on Sunday his new thumb looked "a bit Frankensteinish", although not as "alien" as he had feared.

This week he said the after-effects of surgery had made his "toe-thumb" look unpleasant but now it didn't look too bad.

"A lot of people don't really notice it. My girlfriend - all her friends, none of them know, apart from me telling them. To me it looks a little bit odd, but you get past that."

Surgeon Zac Moaveni hoped the transplant would achieve at least 80 per cent return of normal thumb functioning.

Longbottom says: "It's pretty much there. It doesn't bend the best and it doesn't have the same dexterity, but it hasn't hindered me."

At first after the transplant the toe-thumb was numb, but feeling had returned. Now it has the sensation of pins and needles and feels "like it's in a glove".

The ability to detect the textures of materials is returning but Longbottom still has some difficulty manipulating fiddly objects like little screws and nails.

He recalls the pain in his foot was greater than in his hand after the transplant and the foot and the toe-thumb remain sensitive to knocks.

"I've hit it a couple of times with a hammer and the pain lasts a bit longer than usual."

Further surgery is planned to give the toe-thumb more flexibility.

After that he may get a scorpion tattoo on his arm, with the tail curling into the scar.

William's toe thumb

• Left thumb cut off in a workshop accident.

• Only fragments of it found.

• Second toe of right foot surgically removed.

• Transplanted into thumb's place.

• Severed blood vessels, nerves and tendons sutured together.

• Bones temporarily wired together.