05/23/2014 10:02 EDT | Updated 07/23/2014 05:59 EDT

Toronto surgeons could make history with Canada's 1st hand transplant

Surgeons at Toronto Western Hospital say they are ready to perform Canada’s first hand transplant, as soon as a suitable candidate for the intensive procedure can be found.​

Dr. Steven McCabe, director of the University of Toronto hand and upper extremity program, was on a team of surgeons that carried out North America’s first hand transplant in the 1990s.

The patient who underwent that operation, Matthew Scott, was expected to have use of the hand for about six months to a year. Nearly 15 years later, his transplanted hand remains fully functional.

“It’s very exciting because it offers something for patients that really have no other choices,” McCabe told CBC News.

“It recreates a sense of wholeness for the person. If we can get a good functional result in transplantation it probably will be better than any available prosthetic.”

There are currently about 18,000 people in Canada living with amputations, according to War Amps statistics.

The transplantation procedure has yet to be performed in Canada, despite success in the U.S., because of ethical concerns.

Unlike lung or heart transplants, a hand transplant is not a life or death matter and patients are required to take medication every day for the rest of their lives to prevent their immune systems from rejecting a new hand, McCabe said.

But the time is right to begin performing the procedure in Canadian hospitals, said McCabe. Candidates must go through an extensive physical and emotional screening process in order to be considered for a transplant.

Toronto Western Hospital told CBC News they are currently in talks with the family of an eight-year-old boy who is a possible candidate for the surgery, and said the procedure could happen within the next six months.