A cobbler, who lost his thumb in a freak accident, has had his missing digit replaced with his own big toe.

David Lee was trimming the heel of a shoe at his Nottinghamshire cobblers in January last year when his hand got caught in the machine.

To his horror, he watched his severed right thumb drop to the floor in front of him.

Managing to stay composed, David called an ambulance and even went outside for a cigarette while he waited for paramedics to arrive.

After initially fearing he would lose his business, David is now back at work less than a year after doctors performed surgery to remove his big toe and replace his missing thumb.

David jumped at the chance when doctors said they could save his hand by sewing his big toe to where his thumb used to be

The 40-year-old said: "As soon as it was put to me that attaching my toe gave me a chance to carry on my job, I instantly said ‘let’s do it’.

“I thought I’m never going to do my job again and I’m going to lose my business. It was a no brainer going down this route.

“As a right-handed person, I wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of the job."

Speaking of the moment his thumb was cut off, David said he didn't feel any pain but "it all happened so fast".

"I didn’t look initially as I compressed it with my jumper," he said. "I calmly turned the machines in the shop off.

“Straight away, I knew how bad it was and I just worried that I wouldn’t be able to fix shoes again."

Surgeons removed his big toe to replace his severed thumb

He was rushed to King’s Mill Hospital, in Mansfield, before being transferred to the Pulvertaft Hand Centre, at Royal Derby Hospital, where doctors told him their plan for saving his hand.

Now that David has the big toe in place where his thumb used to be he says he is getting used to the feeling.

“It feels heavy having a toe where the thumb should be," he said.

"Doing the physio and the strength work in my hand has made it feel more like a normal thumb. I’m hopeful I will be getting more feeling in it."

Despite his horrendous ordeal, David has since used the machine at his cobblers in Sutton-in-Ashfield that caused his devastating injury.

The surgery has only been performed a handful of times

He said: “I was a bit anxious approaching the machine, but fixing the band in the machine again put me at ease.

“My foot was the problem, it actually wasn’t healing properly. I was walking around too much and wasn’t sitting down with it elevated. I was just so eager to get back to the shop."

The surgery had been performed only a handful of times at the Derby hospital and is only considered for patients with certain types of amputations.

Jill Arrowsmith, one of the two Consultant Hand Surgeons who performed the operation, said: “This procedure is only offered to patients who have lost a lot of their thumb, usually down to close to the knuckle.

“Not having any of the thumbs can be very disabling, especially for those who do a manual job.

“This type of injury could mean that these patients are not able to remain at work, so we’re delighted to be able to provide this treatment option.

“Toe-to-thumb reconstructions are quite rare but we have been really pleased with all of the outcomes these patients have achieved.

“There are lots of different ways to reconstruct thumbs but using the big toe gives the best functional and cosmetic benefits, as it is the thing most like a thumb on the body.

“David has worked really hard to recover after his injury and has done amazingly well.

"He’s the first master cobbler I’ve ever met, so it’s really nice to hear that he’s back doing what he loves to do.”

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