As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m getting surgery! It seems like I’ve been waiting forever for it to happen, but now that March 7 is only a week away, I’m starting to experience a whirlwind of emotions — I’m excited, nervous, anxious, and everything in between. Before I jump in and explain the surgery, let’s rewind and take this chapter in my journey from the top. I’ve covered a lot of hard miles to get to this point.
I’ve been dedicated to doing physical therapy for a year and a half now. I’ve seen some really good return in my left arm/hand/fingers and a bit in my left leg, but my right side is still very weak. Over the summer, I started feeling like I ‘plateaued’ in PT and in my recovery, but I was still determined to recover more function, especially in my right arm. A common misconception about people who are paralyzed is that they’re just trying to walk again. Of course, I would LOVE to walk my dog and run the Broad Street Run again someday. But honestly, I’d trade that any day to be able to put my hair in a ponytail, write with my dominant hand, and be independent again.
So, my mom and I started doing a lot of research to see if there was anything (or anyone) out there that could help improve the function in my right arm. I applied to tons of studies and clinical trials online that I either never heard back from (*eye roll*) or wasn’t a good fit for. We traveled to Cleveland where I was evaluated for a study at the MetroHealth FES Center and I met with a few orthopedic surgeons at Jefferson in Philly, but none of them could come up with any solutions. I left several doctor appointments feeling deflated. I was starting to think that hope for righty was gone.
Then finally, after mentally preparing myself that I’d probably be disappointed again, came a breakthrough. In November, an upper-extremity specialist I’d been introduced to through my primary care doctor got me in to meet with two doctors in Philly. Within minutes of evaluating me, they were bouncing ideas off each other and brainstorming a plan. Since then, I’ve had a bunch of tests — EMGs and ultrasounds — to ensure I’m appropriate for the surgery they want to do. Everything pointed in the right direction — Phew. Good news.
OK, so, here’s what’s actually happening: Apparently, there’s a muscle near your inner thigh called your gracilis muscle. Don’t worry, I had never heard of it before either. It’s a really small ‘redundant’ muscle. Basically, it serves little purpose — unless you’re a field goal kicker, as the surgeon explained to me. I told him kicking field goals wasn’t my thing and to have at my gracilis muscle. So, on March 7, they’re going to take the gracilis (including its nerves and blood supply) from my right leg and graft it into my right triceps and shoulder. The goal is that the healthy nerves from my leg will help nerves in my arm to regenerate to give me triceps function and stabilize my shoulder. Who knew any of this was even possible!? Amazing.
If the surgery works as expected (fingers crossed), they’re going to do the same surgery again six months later using my other gracilis to give me some better biceps and wrist function on the right. Nerves are lazy so it will take a few months to see the results, but I’m eager to do things I haven’t been able to do for a year and a half. The surgeon explained that the worst that could happen would be that it just doesn’t take, but I wouldn’t lose any of the function that I currently have. That’s a chance I’m willing to take — and of course, I’m optimistic.
So, here goes! I’ll be back next time with all the juicy post-surgery details. Wish me luck!