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New surgery can restore some hand function to paralyzed patients

A revolutionary surgical technique devised by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis could restore some hand and arm movement to paralyzed patients in Minnesota and around the world. A new study assessing the outcomes of the technique was published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

Patients with spinal cord injuries may lose control of body functions because the brain can no longer communicate with the nerves below the point of injury. However, surgeons at Washington University have developed a method of attaching healthy nerves to injured nerves to restore partial function. Essentially, they are rerouting the body's nervous system around the injury site.

The study assessed the outcomes of nine quadriplegic patients who underwent nerve-transfer surgery. All nine showed improved hand and arm function. According to researchers, restoring even small amounts of independence for patients with spinal cord injuries is psychologically important. For example, the technique allowed a patient who had lost use of his fingers to pick food off his shirt after eating. In another case, a doctor who lost use of his left hand after a 2012 car accident was able to write with a pen, use a fork, hold a medical otoscope and drive a car again after nerve-transfer surgery.

Eventually, researchers hope to find a way to cure all 250,000 Americans living with spinal cord injuries. Until then, restoring patients with basic independence is a huge step forward.

Spinal cord injuries can cause a permanent disability that requires a lifetime of expensive medical care. An employee who suffers such an injury in a workplace accident may be entitled to obtain workers' compensation disability benefits. If the accident was caused by the negligence of a non-employer third party, an attorney may help the victim to determine whether a separate personal injury lawsuit can be pursued as well.

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