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New center helps heal shoulder nerve damage

WABC-TV—New York—August 10, 2012

We don't think too much about how the muscles in our arms and hands work, that is until something damages the nerve connections there.

Those nerves are called the brachial plexus and there is a center that focuses on healing damage there.

Injuries to the nerves in the brachial plexus are sort of the stepchildren of neurosurgeons, neurologists and orthopedic surgeons.

Now, Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan has created a center devoted to helping these patients.

36-year-old Andres Echevarriarza played some touch football at a summer wedding last year. He took a fall.

"I landed on my collarbone as I was catching a football in midair," Echevarriarza said.

A month later, though the bone seemed to be healing, he had a shock.

"From one moment to the next one day on vacation, my arm stopped working. I couldn't feel anything, I couldn't move it I couldn't lift my arm," Echevarriarza said.

Andres' broken collarbone was compressing his brachial plexus, a bundle of nerves which operates the muscles of the arm.

The nerves can tear in other injuries which pull the head and shoulder in opposites directions at high speeds.

"The most common injuries are a MV accident or motorcycle accident again because of the high speeds, but we see injured football players, skiers, snowmobilers," said Dr. Scott Wolfe, Hospital for Special Surgery.

While physical therapy can heal some patients, a torn nerve in the plexus takes more.

There's a misconception that nerves can't regrow. They can. But the key to success in treating these injuries is speed.

Surgical techniques to transfer nerves from other parts of the body to heal torn ones in the plexus have a window of only a few months to work, and recovery takes months to years.

But in Andres' case, a more simple surgery to repair his collar bone and take the pressure off the brachial plexus was all he needed for relief.

"I woke up and my arm was working again. The arm worked, it was up to 99 percent the next day, I was ecstatic," Echevarriarza said.

The brachial plexus center at Hospital for Special Surgery officially opened only two months ago.

It's one of only a handful in the country devoted to the repair of damage to the principal nerve connections in the arm and hand.


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