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news News Thursday, September 12, 2019 Thursday, September 12, 2019 3:05 PM - Thursday, September 12, 2019 3:05 PM

Nerve transfer surgeries offer new hope for children

Among the first in the area to offer the treatment for acute flaccid myelitis

Nerve transfer surgeries offer new hope for children

Max is a big fan of fishing. Last summer the 7-year-old spent many days going fishing with his neighbor. His family hopes he can fish again after a rare sudden illness left him unable to move one arm and temporarily paralyzed his legs. Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a condition that can attack the nervous tissue and the myelin (the protective coating) of the spine nerves. Doctors at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago took some of Max’s own nerves from his rib cage area and transferred them to his right arm. It is hoped the nerve transfer surgery will restore better movement to his right elbow and hand. Shriners Hospital is among the first to offer this technique in Chicago for patients with AFM. 

“After a period of recovery, we take an inventory of nerve function using a combination of physical examination and nerve testing to see what’s working, what the patient has that wasn’t affected by AFM, or that has recovered sufficiently and can be used to augment what isn’t working,” said Felicity Fishman, M.D., an orthopaedic hand and upper extremity surgeon at the Chicago Shriners Hospital. “It takes at least six months or longer to start to see if nerve transfers were successful because nerves regenerate slowly, about an inch a month.”

Shriners Hospitals takes a team approach to children with AFM. Two orthopaedic hand surgeons, Dr. Fishman and Sameer Puri, M.D., work together in the operating room. A physiatrist and pediatric rehabilitation team provide support with medications and therapy, which Dr. Fishman says are an essential component of a successful result.

After taking a month to heal from surgery, Max has had regular occupational and physical therapy all summer to keep his muscles and joints flexible. His family is still waiting to see if the nerve transfer will allow him to fish or write using his right hand again. “It’s waiting and working and that will be the hardest part now for a whole year,” Max’s mom, Anna, said. She has already noticed small changes. “How he keeps his hand down. Before it was turned under and bent. Now his hand is more loose and straight. I’m so glad we came here.”

Max and Kate