Mike plays the ukulele again thanks to Southmead Hospital staff who reattached his fingers following an injury

A man in a purple T-shirt holds a ukulele standing, smiling, in front of indoor trees (inside the Brunel atrium, Southmead Hospital)

Ukulele player Mike Aherne vowed to play the instrument once again and to perform at Southmead Hospital, Bristol, after surgeons reattached three of his fingers following a carpentry accident.

And on Monday 3 July 2023, as part of celebrations to mark the 75th birthday of the NHS this week, Mike returned to Southmead Hospital, which is run by North Bristol NHS Trust, to fulfil his vow and perform in the Atrium of the hospital with fellow players from the Ukulele Orchestra of North Curry.

“The staff at Southmead Hospital – the surgery team and the physios, everyone – have all been fantastic, and I’d like to again say a big thank you for what they have done for me,” said Mike, 71, from Taunton, Somerset.

Mike was working as a carpenter and joiner when he was injured in 2019 when his glove got caught in a table saw and pulled his fingers through.

“I was at work as normal working on the table saw I had used umpteen times with all the safeguards in place, when it caught my glove,” added Mike, who has been married to wife Vicky for 50 years, with whom he has two children and four grandchildren.

“I knew it was bad and was taken to Southmead Hospital by ambulance and when I saw the Consultant Plastic Surgeon Mr Rob Warr, he felt they could put my fingers back as the cut was so clean, and my colleagues had immediately looked after the fingers for me.”

Mike underwent an 11 hour operation, which proved successful, and then underwent physiotherapy twice a week for about eight months.

“I awoke from the operation at about 4am in the morning and told staff I would get back to playing the ukulele and that I would also play in the Atrium of Southmead Hospital,” added Mike, who retired following the injury,

“It was about 12 months before I could play again. I was already a member of the Ukulele Orchestra of North Curry, having joined in 2018, and I continued singing and playing a drum in the meantime until I was able to play the ukulele again.

“Thanks to the surgery and the physiotherapy from the staff at Southmead Hospital, I’ve been able to play the ukulele again with the orchestra and it was fantastic to finally be able to play in the Atrium of Southmead Hospital as part of the musical programme for the 75th birthday of the NHS. I was able to see some of the physiotherapy team too, who came to see me play, which was lovely.

“Staff looking after me were great, and I don’t know what I would have done without the NHS. Happy birthday to the NHS!”

Video: North Curry Ukulele Orchestra play in the atrium of the Brunel building, Southmead Hospital 

The performance was arranged by FreshArts, the arts programme for North Bristol NHS Trust, and is just one of the many events taking place from 3-7 July as part of celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of the NHS on 5 July 2023.

Consultant Plastic Surgeon Mr Warr said: “It was fabulous that Mike was able to play the ukulele at Southmead hospital this week. As a part-time musician myself, I recall our conversation about his ambition.

“This wonderful achievement is a testament to the hard work and dedication of many teams; nursing, physio, medical and of course, Mike, his family and friends. Above all, however, it is stories like these that inspire those of us working in the NHS and give hope to future patients who suffer such potentially life changing injuries.”

Specialist Hand Physiotherapist James Henney, is team lead at the Hand Centre in Southmead Hospital and was the main treating clinician for Mike after his surgery. James said: “The rehabilitation involved many hours of physiotherapy twice a week. To achieve such a good outcome you need a combination of excellent surgery and physiotherapy and a hard-working patient.  The post operative care is extremely challenging for patients, requiring time and effort attending appointments and putting in many hours performing exercises which can be painful.

“It was lovely to see Mike play the ukulele in the atrium at Southmead Hospital this week. Mike’s hard work and dedication to his treatment and physiotherapy after the injury has enabled him to achieve such a good outcome and return to his hobbies and achieve his goals.”