Hull mum who was UK’s first female double hand transplant patient now receives ‘world first’ treatment to prevent rejection

Tanya Shepherd undergoing plasma exchange treatment
Hull mum Tanya Shepherd undergoing plasma exchange treatment

A Hull mum who became the UK’s first female recipient of a double hand transplant has undergone treatment, believed to be a world first, to prevent rejection of the body parts.

Tanya Shepherd, 48, lost both her hands and three-quarters of an arm through sepsis. She has just undergone plasma exchange treatment in an attempt to stop rejection of the transplanted hands.

Beauty therapist Tanya lost the limbs after ulcerative colitis – a condition which causes the colon to become inflamed – became worse in the early months of 2015. Convinced she would have to use prosthetics for the rest of her life, Tanya was recovering in hospital when she watched a TV programme about Corinne Hutton, the first woman to be placed on the hand transplant register.


Tanya put herself forward and was chosen to begin the pioneering process at Leeds General Infirmary with a specialist team – the only one in the UK able to carry out the operation. She had the revolutionary surgery in 2018.

Now, Tanya is being treated by Therapeutic Apheresis Services (TAS), in Leeds, operated by NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT). She had symptoms of Antibody Mediated Rejection (AMR), a type of rejection where the immune system identifies the tissue as foreign and produces antibodies to the Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA) in the donor organ.

Nurse Katie White with Tanya Shepherd
Nurse Katie White with Tanya Shepherd

Tanya has received ten sessions of Therapeutic Plasma Exchange from NHSBT, where plasma is removed from the blood to quickly decrease or remove the circulating donor specific antibodies, in a bid to stop the rejection. It is the first known time globally that plasma exchange has been used as a method to treat this type of rejection in a double hand transplant patient.

Tanya said: “I’m so grateful to the teams at the TAS, the wider NHSBT and to all of those generous blood and plasma donors that meant this treatment was available to me. Rejection is a real and scary risk for any transplant recipient, but it is reassuring to know that there are treatments that can help – I’m honoured to be the first to trial the plasma exchange for AMR in hand transplants.

“As always, I encourage people to sign up to become an organ donor and to donate blood and/or plasma if they are able. I’m eternally grateful to those who already have, who have helped me on my journey.”

Initial results suggest that the antibody levels have reduced significantly and Tanya’s symptoms, which included swelling, reduced dexterity and changes in skin pigmentation have begun to improve. Tanya will now begin a different immunosuppressive treatment in the hope of preventing antibody levels from rising again.

Tanya, who received the double hand and arm transplant at Leeds General Infirmary in September 2018, is one of only two cases in the world with AMR of transplanted hands. Dr James Griffin, NHSBT medical director in apheresis and gene therapies, said: “Rejection of transplants can be caused by the development of antibodies against the transplanted tissue. The plasma exchange that Tanya has received from NHSBT’s TAS unit in Leeds, allows removal of these antibodies and other components of the immune system that are causing the rejection process.

Tanya Shepherd of Hull undergoing plasma exchange treatment at Therapeutic Apheresis Services, in Leeds
Tanya Shepherd of Hull undergoing plasma exchange treatment at Therapeutic Apheresis Services, in Leeds

“Our aim is to protect the transplant while other therapies work to stop Tanya’s immune system from making the antibodies. We’re pleased that the treatment has served to ease Tanya’s symptoms and allow her to continue with further treatment.”

Charlotte Blacklock-Lumb, lead nurse at TAS, Leeds, said: “This is the first time that we at TAS have used plasma exchange as a treatment for AMR in a double hand transplant patient and we are delighted to be able to support Tanya in this way. We worked in close conjunction with the hand transplant team, led by Professor Simon Kay, to monitor Tanya as she underwent her initial run of treatment.

“As ever, we are grateful to the many people who donate both blood and plasma and allow treatments like these to take place.” Health Minister Andrea Leadsome said: “Organ rejection is a real risk for transplant recipients and can have devastating consequences.

“NHSBT continues to champion innovative treatments like this world-first plasma exchange, allowing people to receive further treatment and live their lives to the fullest. If you’re eligible, please consider signing up to become an organ, blood and plasma donor, to support the development of these lifesaving treatments.”

To find out more about blood and plasma donation and to register as a donor, visit or call 0300 123 23 23. For more information about organ donation, and to confirm your support for organ donation, visit, call 0300 123 23 23 or use the NHS app.