Australian Doctors Have Found A Breakthrough For Nerve Surgery, Giving Paraplegics Hope To Regain Upper Limb Functionality

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Surgical trials that have surfaced recently brings new life and hope to quadriplegics who will be able to return to doing normal activities they had lost all hope in performing – all thanks to a new and innovative surgical process that relocates nerves.

Australian Paul Robinson, who is now in his 30s, got into a dirt bike accident that left him paralyzed from his chest down back in 2015. He fell and landed on his head, breaking a vertebrae located on his neck which left him in a wheelchair and confined in his home.

Austin Health in Melbourne conducted a medical trial for quadriplegic patients to re-enervate paralyzed muscles by using nerve transfers and Robinson was part of the lucky 16 people to participate.

Another man that was recruited was a CEO for three different companies before he suffered a grave boating accident. Dr. Natasha Van Zyl who was the lead reconstructive surgeon said that “he had decided that he would try this surgery, but if it didn’t work he was going to exit—he didn’t want to live any more.”

With the combination of tendon and nerve transfers done in the operation, he was able to start working again from home and even take his family to the movies, handling the money, buying the tickets and even buying the popcorn.

The transferring of tendons has long been used to regain function in paralyzed upper limbs by transplanting muscles in said area to take over functions that were lost from the paralyzed region, that wont have chances of restoring itself again.


This new nerve transfer technique re-routes and implants useful nerves in the paralyzed muscle, which essentially ‘plugs in’ signals to another functional area within the spinal cord.

These nerve transfers have been done as early as 1962 in order to improve and return the function of upper limbs. Van Zyl did say that it wasn’t her team who invented this procedure, but no one had explored this idea extensively enough for quadriplegics.

Her team is responsible for designing a triple nerve transfer procedure that has proven to be successful. The Lancet medical journal published their long-term study showing amazing results.

The surgical team under Van Zyl completed 59 nerve transfers on 16 patients, ranging from attempts of elbow extension and hand and grip extensions. Each of the participants went through either single or multiple nerve transfers in their upper limbs, followed by post-surgical physical therapy.

13 of the patients that completed the study experienced elbow extension and hand function improvements.


While these surgical procedures don’t give back full functionality to the limbs, the improved mobility they regain makes a huge difference in their lives.

“Prior to surgery, none of the participants were able to perform the grasp or pinch strength tests, but two years later, their pinch and grasp strength was sufficient to allow them to do most activities of daily living,” as written in an article from Pursuit, at the University of Melbourne.

While Robinson was left with absolutely no hand function after his accident, he is now able to use his arms and hands to move his wheelchair, pick up items, hold a glass and other small feats.

Robinson told CNN:

“Before, I was confined to a wheelchair but I couldn’t push it unless I wore special gloves. If I dropped something on the ground, I had to ask someone to pick it up. I couldn’t drive. To pick up a drink, I’d have to use two hands and squeeze them up. It’s made a massive difference to my life.”



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