TUESDAY, May 15 (HealthDay News) -- For the first time, surgeons have restored partial mobility to the hand of a quadriplegic patient.
The patient had suffered an injury to the lowest bone in his neck, and it was the specific location of the injury that allowed surgeons to avoid operating on the spine itself.
Instead, the team focused on the patient's still healthy upper arm nerves. Bypassing the hand's original (and now damaged) connection to the injured spine, the team effectively used the upper arm nerves to rewire a fresh connection to the intact motor control region of his brain.
A year of rigorous physical therapy later, the team of surgeons at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis reaped their reward: the restoration of the patient's ability to flex his thumb and index finger.
"This procedure is unusual for treating quadriplegia because we do not attempt to go back into the spinal cord where the injury is," surgeon Dr. Ida K. Fox, an assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery, said in a news release from the university. "Instead, we go out to where we know things work -- in this case the elbow -- so that we can borrow nerves there and reroute them to give hand function."
Fox and her colleagues discuss the case in the May 15 online issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery.
The authors pointed out that their surgical approach would only be viable for patients like theirs: namely, those who sustain injury to the C7 (or C6) vertebra, located in the lower region of the neck. While such patients lose hand function, they retain function in their shoulder, elbow and wrist because the spinal region above the injury remains free of damage.
Those who suffer an injury to the C1 through C5 vertebra experience total arm function loss, and would not be eligible for this type of nerve bypass surgery, developed and performed by
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