Following a number of nerve transfer operations, surgeons have been able to report improved arm and hand function in 9 patients with quadriplegia. Their results of their research was published in the latest edition of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
How the surgery is carried out
During nerve transfer surgery, a healthy donor nerve is retrieved from above the injury site, which is then connected by the surgeon to a paralysed nerve, thus bypassing the damaged area in the spinal cord. Following surgery, the nerves need some time for the process of re innervation, plus the brain also needs to relearn how to use the muscle. For this reason, outcomes in each patient can vary and it can take anything from a month to a year to evaluate how successful the surgery has been. However, the results have been seen to have dramatic effects on both function of the arm and hand, and the patient’s independence.
The study’s lead author, Ida K. Fox MD from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, reported that following surgery, one of his patients was able to pick up a noodle whereas prior to surgery he was unable to move his fingers at all.
The implications of the surgery
These results have proved to be very promising. The researchers hope that they’ll eventually be able to restore full function and movement to almost a quarter of a million Americans with spinal cord injuries. However, at the moment, simply gaining basic independence in routine tasks is greatly improving the lives of patients with quadriplegia. Hand function, in particular, is extremely important for all kinds of basic activities, with many patients who have lost the ability to use their hands, stating that regaining this function is more important than being able to walk.
One of the team’s patients, Michael D. Bavslick found that after the nerve transfer procedure, he experienced restored triceps function and an improvement in his grip, enabling him to feed himself, write with a pen, use an otoscope and drive once more. He had suffered a cervical spinal cord injury in an auto accident in 2012.
While the improvements aren’t instantaneous, once established most patients are able to significantly improve the quality of their daily life.
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