We need to pinch our thumb for nearly 90 percent of the tasks we do each day with our hands. It's something most of us take for granted, but if we were to lose that ability, it would make life very difficult. Here's how doctors are restoring the ability to pinch in some people with spinal cord injuries.
What may seem like a simple stroke of the brush is a major accomplishment for Rose O'Lague. A car accident left O'Lague a quadriplegic. But, she says, not being able to walk was not the hardest part.
"My thumb hung away from my hand so I had no grip," O'Lague said.
No grip meant not being able to hold her paintbrush.
"No matter how hard I tried, I could not grip anything. That was terribly frustrating," she said.
To restore function in O'Lague's thumb, doctors took a tendon from her forearm and transferred it to her thumb.
Orthopedic hand surgeon Allan Peljovich, M.D., M.P.H., of Shepherd Center in Atlanta, performed rose's surgery.
"In the end, it doesn't cause her any difficulty or impairment in her elbow, but now provides her with function she doesn't have," Dr. Peljovich said.
After five weeks in a cast and months of therapy, O'Lague is now able to paint with great detail.
"Taking care of people like Rose are about as much fun as it gets because you can really make a difference for what they do," Dr. Peljovich said.
"I can put on my own lipstick. I can pick up finger food," O'Lague said.
She can also turn pages -- a necessity for a director of a community theater.
"I know I'm not going to walk again and I'm not concerned about that, but not to be able to do anything with my hands, that probably would have been the hardest thing to really live with," said O’Lague.
Doctors say new techniques have made tendon transfers more successful and better for the patient. Tendon transfers can be done in other areas of the body including the shoulder, elbow and hand.
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