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July 2013

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Jim Anderson has regained use of his hands after surgery.

Nerve surgery gives people with quadriplegia use of their hands

After a spinal cord injury left him with quadriplegia, Jim Anderson, 23, had no hand function at all and limited movement in his elbows.

When he was offered the opportunity to be the first person in Australia to undergo a triple nerve transfer to restore some of his hand and arm function, he was unwavering in his decision to take the risk.

‘I said yes before they even explained it,’ Mr Anderson said.

‘Nothing was going to get worse.

‘It has definitely made life easier.’

After five months of intense rehabilitation, he is able to extend his fingers and demonstrate the use of his triceps.

Mr Anderson is now one of 10 patients with C5 and C6-level quadriplegia to have regained some use of their arms and hands after nerve transfer surgery at Austin Health.

In nerve transfer surgery, nerves that no longer function due to spinal cord injury (in this case, nerves that control the arm and hands) are rerouted to working nerves, restoring lost function.

Surgeons at Austin Health’s Victorian Spinal Cord Service have brought a number of these procedures together for the first time with very promising early results.

Plastic surgeon Natasha van Zyl described the project as a ‘labour of love’ that will change lives.

‘What we are doing is changing a person who is quadriplegic into someone who is paraplegic,’ Ms van Zyl said.

‘And that, of course, has massive implications for their function.

‘They can now pretty much run a normal life from their wheelchair.’