Media Relations Manager
New Hope for Wrist Patients at the Curtis National Hand Center
Baltimore, MD (August, 2011) Dr. James Higgins, Chief of Union Memorial Hospital’s Curtis National Hand Center, was honored by the American Society of Reconstructive Microsurgery with the prestigious Godina Traveling Fellowship last year. After completing a clinical and research tour of hand centers worldwide, he applied his knowledge gained to a procedure never performed in the U.S. before. He returned function to a patient’s wrist, using parts taken from his knee.
As an electrician, Keith Brown put very strenuous demands on his hands and wrists, resulting in chronic ligament tears and disassociation of the tiny carpal bones in his wrist joint. In 2008 he underwent a conventional ligament reconstruction surgery to the left wrist, but it did little to alleviate his constant pain. When he sustained the same injury to his right wrist, he discussed his options with Dr. Higgins and agreed this innovative new procedure could be the solution.
Dr. Higgins and his team dissected a wafer thin piece of cartilage-bearing bone from the patient’s own knee and shaped it to fit exactly into the gap created in the wrist bones by the damage ligaments. Dr. Higgins then transferred the bone with its own small blood vessels and its own cartilage into Keith’s joint to solidly fuse the unstable wrist segment. The procedure preserves the cartilage surface and promotes greater opportunity for a healthy wrist motion.
“Transferring not only the bone, but the bone and cartilage on the same blood vessel may be the most exciting new development in our field,” said Dr. Higgins. “Keith is the first person in the US to have this procedure and can uniquely compare his current outcome to the other wrist where he underwent conventional procedure.”
“At only six weeks out it already felt better than my left hand,” Keith said. “The strength in my right hand is already up to where the other hand is, so it’s promising. Very promising.”
Wrist fractures count for one-sixth of all fractures seen in U.S. emergency rooms. One of the most commonly broken wrist bones is the scaphoid bone at the base of the thumb. For many patients, poor circulation at the injury site prevents the bones from healing. Over time, the impaired healing process can lead to arthritis and loss of wrist function.
“This technique is great news for patients with previously unresolved problems such as end stage Kienbock’s disease and non unions. Our clinical and experimental results thus far are extraordinarily promising,” Dr. Higgins said. “Wrist patients have new hope for what had been previously hopeless to many.”
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