Restoring Function in Hands, Wrists and Arms

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Healthwire Update: Shepherd Center

Tendon transfer surgery offered through Shepherd Center”s Upper Extremity Clinic can restore hand and arm function to people with tetraplegia.

By Bill Sanders

Shannon Tharpe lived 15 years as a tetraplegic, having raised two babies without ever being able to fully use her hands to take care of them. But a surgical procedure changed that, and now she”s experiencing a life she thought she”d never have.

Shannon, 40, of Fort Valley, Ga., underwent tendon transfer surgery six years ago through Shepherd”s Upper Extremity Clinic. The procedure, which is one of several offered through the clinic, can restore elbow and hand functions to people with tetraplegia. People who undergo the procedure can regain wrist extension, grip, pinch and even the ability to straighten their arms.

Shepherd Center consulting hand and upper extremity surgeon Allan Peljovich, M.D., and consulting plastic surgeon Arthur Simon, M.D., perform the tendon transfer surgery. They select a functioning muscle, detach it, and then reattach it to a new location with the right amount of pull and force. Then, with a bit of healing and therapy, the patient learns to activate the muscle, which now does something new. For example, one of the elbow flexor muscles, the brachioradialis, can be detached from one of the forearm bones, and then reattached into a thumb flexor muscle, restoring thumb pinch where there was not any before, Dr. Peljovich explains.

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