Surgical technique restores some hand function to quadriplegic patient

Therapy developed by Susan Mackinnon could help those with C6, C7 spinal cord injuries. Read More

From the WUSTL Newsroom

Surgeons at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have restored some hand function in a quadriplegic patient with a spinal cord injury at the C7 vertebra, the lowest bone in the neck. Instead of operating on the spine itself, the surgeons rerouted working nerves in the upper arms. These nerves still “talk” to the brain because they attach to the spine above the injury.

Following the surgery, performed at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and one year of intensive physical therapy, the patient regained some hand function, specifically the ability to bend the thumb and index finger. He can now feed himself bite-size pieces of food and write with assistance.

The case study, published online May 15 in the Journal of Neurosurgery, is, to the authors’ knowledge, the first reported case of using nerve transfer to restore the ability to flex the thumb and index finger after a spinal cord injury.

The surgery was developed and performed by the study’s senior author Susan E. Mackinnon, MD, chief of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine. Specializing in injuries to peripheral nerves, she has pioneered similar surgeries to return function to injured arms and legs.

Mackinnon originally developed this procedure for patients with arm injuries specifically damaging the nerves that provide the ability to flex the thumb and index finger. This is the first time she has applied this peripheral nerve technique to return limb function after a spinal cord injury.

For more from Julia Evangelou Strait of the WUSTL Newsroom, click here.

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Posted on May 16, 2012
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