Natasha van Zyl has dramatically improved the lives of 13 people — by moving their nerves around.
Prior to going under the Australian surgeon’s knife, all four of each patients’ limbs were paralyzed due to a recent sporting or traffic accident.
Using a technique known as nerve transfer, van Zyl restored the patients’ ability to extend their elbows and grasp and pinch with their hands — and she thinks many others could experience the same benefits.
Nerves of Steel
On Thursday, van Zyl published the details of the nerve transfer surgeries in the journal The Lancet.
She and her team at Austin Health in Melbourne, Australia, started by removing functional nerves from above the patients’ spinal injuries. They then transplanted the nerves into the patients’ paralyzed limbs.
Two years after the surgeries, according to the paper, the patients showed significant improvement in their hand function.
As van Zyl told The Guardian, nerve transfers have been around for a while — but it wasn’t until 2014 that she and her team designed a triple nerve transplant to treat paralysis.
The success of that first surgery led to the new study, which patient Paul Robinson hopes will encourage others to seek out nerve transfers.
“There might be someone else out there who doesn’t see that this is an option,” he told The Guardian. “It has made such a big change to my life; hopefully it can help someone else too. It’s really a life-changing thing.”
READ MORE: Pioneering surgery brings movement back to paralysed hands [The Guardian]
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