New Tendons Restore Hands

FRESNO, Calif.

For 15-year-old Nicole, simple things like fixing her hair or painting her nails used to give her the hardest time.

"There were definitely things that were difficult like sports and gym class and stuff." Nicole, transverse myelitis patient told Ivanhoe.

At just five, Nicole was diagnosed with transverse myelitis -- a rare nervous system disease. She lost control of all but five muscles in her right hand. Most people have 30 muscles.

"I think the closest analogy is perhaps Polio," Scott W. Wolfe, M.D., Orthopedic Hand Surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York said.

Dr. Wolfe spent three months on an answer. The unique solution: matching working, available tendons in her arm to non-working muscles in her palm.

"That gives us the opportunity to take working muscle units from one position in the forearm, and reconnect them in a different place and have those same do a different task." Dr. Wolfe said.

Surgeons both stabilized Nicole's thumb and then transferred those tendons at the same time. A muscle that used to straighten Nicole's wrist is now used to bend her fingers.

"I am definitely really surprised on how it's working out so quickly," Nicole said.

Nicole absorbed three month's worth of physical therapy in just three weeks and is hungry for more. Good news for the 14-hundred people diagnosed with her condition yearly.

"Everything's just so much easier, I can text quicker. I can even do simple things like hold something in one hand and open a door with the other, Nicole added," Now, Nicole can primp, pour and yes, text. It's simple, yet revolutionary progress.

It will take Nicole two full years of therapy before she gains full strength in her right hand. Oddly, there are no specific causes of transverse myelitis -- nor is there any familial pre-disposition. Most often, the condition blossoms after damage to nerve fibers following a viral infection.

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marsha Hitchcock at

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