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Pianist Misha Dichter to perform at Stanford thanks to HSS surgeon

San Francisco Chronicle—February 15, 2010

Today, Misha Dichter calls himself the happiest pianist in the world. But only three years ago, Dichter, who will perform Wednesday at Stanford University, said he had "zero hope" for his career. Faced with a debilitating hand condition, he was afraid he might never play again.

In his busiest performing years, Dichter performed 100 concerts a year all over the world. But he always played in the shadow of a specter: His father had suffered from Dupuytren's contracture, a condition that disfigured his hands, and Dichter knew the condition was genetic.

Dichter received the official Dupuytren's diagnosis in 2007, but he began experiencing symptoms of the disease years earlier. It started with a small dimple on the palm of his right hand. Over time, his ring and little fingers curled toward his palm and impaired his hand movement. Dichter was terrified he would face the same fate as his father.

Father had surgery, too

"My father had two botched surgeries," Dichter said by phone from his New York City home. "His hands were curled up and looked like horrible claws. Remembering what Dad went through, I was not about to have surgery."

Instead, he modified his technique, adjusting the fingering so he could play his repertoire with only nine fingers, or with only his left hand. He said his right hand "felt like someone had poured cement under my skin."

Dichter managed to compensate for his ailing right hand for several years, but in early 2007, before a weekend concert in New Orleans, the condition became too much to bear any longer. He had been working on a Tchaikovsky piece he was scheduled to play with the Chicago Symphony three months later, but he couldn't play anything with his right hand. He decided it was time to call a surgeon.

"The receptionist put me on hold, and the hold music was the very same Tchaikovsky piece I was supposed to be learning," Dichter said. "It was a sign."

The surgeon Dichter called was orthopedic hand specialist Dr. Scott Wolfe, chief of the Hand and Upper Extremity Service at Manhattan's Hospital for Special Surgery who also spent 10 years directing the hand and upper extremity program at Yale University. Wolfe rearranged his schedule and performed Dichter's delicate, two-hour surgery within two weeks of his first visit.

"Scott was a genius," Dichter said. "He was so wide-eyed and optimistic. This surgery was nothing for him."

Read the full story at sfgate.com.


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