Medical Minute 2-21: Treating Transverse Myelitis

By: Vanessa Welch Email
By: Vanessa Welch Email

For 15-year-old Nicole, a card game with mom can't be beat by anything by pulling her hair up into a pony tail or painting her nails.
Those simple things used to give her the hardest time.

"There were definitely things that were difficult like sports and gym class and stuff," said Nicole.

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.

"People just use their hands every day. They don't even think about it. I have to actually think about it," she said.

"I think the closest analogy is perhaps Polio," said Dr. Scott Wolfe.

Doctor Scott Wolfe at the Hospital for Special Surgery 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," said Scott W. Wolfe, M.D., Hospital for Special Surgery.

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 absorbed three month's worth of physical therapy in just three weeks and is hungry for more. Good news for the 1400 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."

Now, Nicole can primp, pour and yes, text. It's simple, yet revolutionary progress.

For more information, call the Medical Minute Line at: (407) 740-0789 ext 579

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