A wiggle stuns the world
In 2008, Tom Wachtel, a 69-year-old Phoenix trauma surgeon, was driving to the hospital to perform emergency surgery when his car struck the median and flipped nose to end. Wachtel broke his neck and suffered a devastating spinal cord injury that left him a quadriplegic.
A couple years later, he sought out Mackinnon. Nerve transfer surgery never had been applied to a patient with a spinal cord injury and Mackinnon wasn?t sure it would work. Wachtel was willing to take the chance on the belief that others could learn from the experience.
For nine months post-surgery, they waited. That?s how long it took for the rerouted nerve to grow six inches toward Wachtel?s hand muscles.
One day he wiggled his finger and thumb. And Mackinnon? ?I just went to the floor. I was so stunned and excited,? she said.
Wachtel had become the first quadriplegic to regain hand function via nerve transfer surgery, and the story made international headlines.
Eventually, Wachtel managed to eat a complete meal by himself and take control over other small, daily tasks. He gained enough independence to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary at a Las Vegas restaurant. Two years into his recovery, he could catch a soccer ball.
All those who?ve had a successful nerve transfer surgery, raise your arms ?. Tom Wachtel, MD, with Loren Schaller.
Mackinnon since has trained Fox as the surgical lead on nerve transfer procedures involving the cervical spinal cord. In total, 14 patients at Washington University Medical Center have undergone the procedure.
The technique has shown promising results for restoring function to select patients that otherwise would have been confined to a lifetime of hand paralysis, and ultimately laying the foundation for an emerging medical specialty.
?The world of nerve transfer surgery has been evolving for the last couple decades, in large part due to the efforts of Dr. Mackinnon,? said Gerald Wolff, MD, residency program director for the rehabilitation center at University of Ottawa in Canada, who was mentored by Mackinnon and Fox on the procedure.