Australian Paul Robinson, now 34, broke a vertebrae when he landed on his head in a dirt bike accident in 2015. It left him confined to a wheelchair and rarely able to leave his home.
“I had no motor and muscle control below my nipples. It also affected my arm function and I had zero function in my hands,” he said.
But after undergoing nerve transfer surgery, a technique pioneered on spinal cord injuries by surgeons in Australia, he’s now able to use his hands and arms to propel his own wheelchair, pick up items from the ground, and with one hand use a television remote control and hold a glass.
“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,” he said. “I can do my toilet routine on my own. As a grown man, it was very demoralizing having someone help you go to the toilet.”
Robinson was one of 16 young adults with tetraplegia (paralysis of both the upper and lower limbs) recruited by Australian surgeons for a study.
The patients underwent single or multiple nerve transfers in one or both upper limbs, to allow the elbow to extend and the hand to grasp, pinch and open. The surgery ultimately enabled 13 of the participants to regain movement and function in their elbows and hands, according to the results of the study published Thursday in the medical journal The Lancet.