Hand-transplant man ran away with his nurse

CLINT HALLAM: Disliked his transplanted hand.
The Dominion Post
CLINT HALLAM: Disliked his transplanted hand.

A Kiwi fraudster who rejected the world's first hand transplant has rejected his family too, leaving his wife and children to live with the nurse who helped him through the surgery.

Clint Hallam, 57, made medical history 10 years ago when the hand of a dead French motorcyclist was grafted on to his arm after his right hand was severed in an accident.

But his body rejected the hand and three years later he had it amputated, prompting criticism from the surgeons, who said he had lost contact with his doctors and failed to take the necessary anti-rejection drugs.

The operation attracted further controversy when it was revealed Mr Hallam had lost his hand in an accident in Christchurch's Rolleston Prison while serving time for fraud.

He fled New Zealand in 1996, facing an arrest warrant in Napier for bankruptcy matters, believed to owe thousands of dollars and labelled "King of the Cons".

At the time of the transplant he also faced fraud charges in Australia, in relation to a national fuel-card scam totalling $30,000.

Neither Australian nor New Zealand police could confirm yesterday whether any of these charges were still outstanding.

Mr Hallam has now revealed that he walked out on his wife of 12 years and children a year after the 1998 operation to live with French nurse Martine Szmytkowski. "Marti is the only good thing the surgeons gave me," he told Britain's Sunday Mirror. "Apart from her, I gained nothing. I had a good lifestyle, a good family, and I lost it all overnight because of wanting a hand."

Mr Hallam met Ms Szmytkowski two days after the transplant when she came to change his bandages while he recuperated in hospital in Lyon. "She had this red-tinted hair and pixie face and I thought, `This is nice'. But it never occurred to me I was going to get into a relationship with her."

Three months later, having returned to Australia and his family, all he could think of was his nurse. A year later he "ran away from home" to Las Vegas to be with her.

The couple have adopted a daughter, Nham, from a Vietnamese orphanage and plan to marry at the end of the year in Las Vegas or the Caribbean.

Mr Hallam told the paper he was still bitter about the transplant, a 14-hour marathon operation by Jean-Michel Dubernard, who later did the first face transplant.

He said he disliked the hand from the first moment he saw it. When the hand began to wither, he had it removed. "The donor hand was bigger than my hand, bald and pink. And my skin is olive-toned and with hair. It didn't match."

When the transplant was amputated in 2001, Professor Dubernard said: "We were all used, the surgeons and the psychiatrists. He [Hallam] played on our emotions."

NEW LIMB 'DIDN'T MATCH'

1984: Clint Hallam loses his right hand in a circular saw accident at Rolleston Prison while serving a jail term for fraud. The hand is sewn back on but he cannot use it.

1989: His hand is amputated.

1996: Flees to Perth, reportedly facing arrest warrants on bankruptcy matters and owing thousands of dollars.

1997: Arrested and charged in Perth with seven counts of fraud in relation to theft of A$30,000.

1998: Receives the world's first hand transplant in France and later returns to Australia.

1999: Leaves his family to live with Martine Szmytkowski, the nurse who helped him through the operation.

2001: Has transplanted hand removed.

2002: Asks surgeons for another hand.

The Dominion Post