Tendon Transfer Surgery Restores Patient's Key Functions
Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tendon Transfer Surgery Restores Hand and Arm Functions to Spinal Cord Injury Patient

tendon transfer patient story

MAYWOOD, IL –  After suffering a severe cervical spinal cord injury from a bad fall at work, Scott McConnell had little function remaining in his hands and arms.
 
Loyola Medicine orthopaedic surgeon Michael Bednar, MD, was able to restore key functions with a series of operations called tendon transfers.

Mr. McConnell now can open his fingers much more than he could before, and he can close them in a tight grip. He can pinch with his thumb and extend his arms outward. He is able to more easily perform everyday tasks such as grasping a cup, brushing his teeth and using his cell phone.
 
"I have a lot more ability in both my hands and my arms," Mr. McConnell said.
 
Depending on the extent of the spinal cord injury, tendon transfers can enable a patient to grasp objects, open the hand, pinch the thumb and straighten the elbow.
 
In a tendon transfer, muscles that still work are redirected to do the jobs of muscles that are paralyzed. For example, the surgeon may detach one of the working muscles that flexes the elbow and reattach it to a nonworking muscle that flexes the thumb.
 
The number of functioning muscles a patient has will determine what tendon transfers the surgeon will perform. The more working muscles available for transfer, the more functions can be restored. Tendon transfers typically involve two surgeries on each arm, performed three months apart. Arms are done one at a time. During rehabilitation with a hand specialist, patients learn how to use the transferred muscles.
 
Dr. Bednar has performed tendon transfers on about 75 patients and is among the most skilled and experienced surgeons in the country doing the procedure.
 
"Performing tendon transfers on patients with cervical spinal cord injuries requires a team approach," Dr. Bednar said. "A multidisciplinary team works with the surgeon to determine who is an appropriate candidate for surgery. The team then helps the patient through the surgeries and rehabilitation, thereby ensuring maximum benefit from the procedures."
 
Patients who potentially can benefit the most from tendon transfers have spinal cord injuries in the C5-C8 cervical nerves in the lower neck. Mr. McConnell's injury was C5-C6.
 
"These are the most satisfying patients with whom I get to work," Dr. Bednar said. "To do the operation and have them activate a muscle for the first time since their injury, and see the look in their eyes and their face light up when they realize the function is back, is one of the most rewarding things I get to do as a surgeon."

In addition to performing tendon transfers for spinal cord injuries, Dr. Bednar performs tendon transfer procedures to treat peripheral nerve injuries at Loyola's Peripheral Nerve Center

About Loyola Medicine

Loyola Medicine is a quaternary care system based in the western suburbs of Chicago that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC) in Maywood, Gottlieb Memorial Hospital (GMH) in Melrose Park, MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services from more than 1,750 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital that includes the William G. and Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. The medical center campus is also home to Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. GMH is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital with 150 physician offices, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park. MacNeal Hospital is a 374-bed teaching hospital with advanced inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical and psychiatric services, advanced diagnostics and treatments in a convenient community setting at eight locations. Loyola Medicine is a member of Trinity Health, one of the nation’s largest health systems with 94 hospitals in 22 states.

About Trinity Health

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic health care delivery systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 93 hospitals, as well as 122 continuing care programs that include PACE, senior living facilities, and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $17.6 billion and assets of $23.4 billion, the organization returns $1.1 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity Health employs about 131,000 colleagues, including 7,500 employed physicians and clinicians. Committed to those who are poor and underserved in its communities, Trinity Health is known for its focus on the country's aging population. As a single, unified ministry, the organization is the innovator of Senior Emergency Departments, the largest not-for-profit provider of home health care services — ranked by number of visits — in the nation, as well as the nation’s leading provider of PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) based on the number of available programs. For more information, visit www.trinity-health.org. You can also follow @TrinityHealthMI on Twitter.