Pioneering Nerve Surgery for Motorbike Crash Lawyer

The Royal Gazette, Bermuda—February 12, 2010

One of Bermuda's top lawyers is to undergo "cutting edge" surgery in the US to restore the use of his left arm after it was paralysed in a bike accident.

Wendell Hollis, who has acted as the Premier's personal attorney, will undergo an operation which could last as long as 11 hours at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York on February 19.

The 57-year-old was involved in a single vehicle motorbike crash on Parsons Lane on December 16, of which he remembers nothing and which left him in intensive care at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital for eight days.

He was referred to HSS last month, where orthopaedic surgeon Scott W. Wolfe diagnosed serious injury to the brachial plexus — the nerves which carry signals to the shoulder, arm and hand to enable movement.

Mr. Hollis, president of HCS Group law firm, told The Royal Gazette: "The diagnosis was worse than I had expected as they indicated that the majority of the nerves that serve my left arm have been torn off at the spine.

"One nerve was cut and ripped off and two others were pulled right out of the spine. Of the five nerves [in that area], three are gone and two are left.

"I can't move my arm at all. I can't bend it or lift it. It just hangs there. My shoulder is numb. I'm right-handed — which is lucky."

The father-of-three was told that without surgery his arm would remain useless but that he could have a complex nerve transfer operation which has only been available to patients for about the last ten years.

Dr. Wolfe, chief of the New York hospital's hand and upper extremity service, told this newspaper yesterday: "It's the cutting edge [of medicine], it really is. These techniques were not known a decade ago.

"Your average orthopaedic surgeon doesn't know that these can be done."

The surgeon explained that 20 years ago a patient with such a traumatic injury would likely have been advised to have his arm amputated.

But huge advances in microsurgery techniques mean doctors at specialist centres around the world can now take part of a working nerve from elsewhere in the body and attach it to one of the nerves no longer working.

Dr. Wolfe said it was likely that he would need to take a portion of nerve from Mr. Hollis's leg, leaving him with just a small patch of numbness on that limb.

Glue made from compounds found in the patient's bloodstream will then be used to join working and non-working nerves together to eventually enable the muscles in his shoulder and upper arm to function again.

A team of ten medics will be involved in the operation, which is done entirely under a microscope using a needle barely visible to the human eye. Modern nerve transfers have a success rate of about 90 percent.

"The nerves have to regenerate," said Dr. Wolfe. "Nerves can grow but they grow a millimetre a day. These nerve transfers have three inches to grow. It will take a minimum of 100 days to reach the muscle.

"What Mr. Hollis would consider useful function — it's probably going to be a year before he feels he gets some function back."

Mr. Hollis said: "Thirty years ago, nothing could have been done and I would have been left with the paralysis for the rest of my life. I am blessed that with the marvels of modern medicine and, in particular, microsurgery, they say that they can restore the use of my arm to about 80 to 90 percent."

He added: "I feel like I am part of an exciting experiment on the cutting edge of modern medicine."

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