Italian Man Might Regain Use of Hand after Nerve Operation

08 January 2024

A man in Italy might regain the use of his hand after having a new kind of medical operation.

Doctors in northern Italy said the surgery used a nerve from the man's partly amputated leg to repair a damaged nerve in his hand. His hand became paralyzed after a severe driving accident.

Surgeons at Turin City Hospital took part of the man's sciatic nerve from his leg. That is the nerve which helps control movement in the foot. The doctors transferred part of the man's sciatic nerve to his brachial plexus. That is a network of nerves connecting the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm, and hand.

Gaviglio had a nerve transplanted from his amputated foot to restore use of his paralyzed hand, Dec. 27, 2023. (REUTERS/Massimo Pinca)
Gaviglio had a nerve transplanted from his amputated foot to restore use of his paralyzed hand, Dec. 27, 2023. (REUTERS/Massimo Pinca)

"It's the first time that someone [has transferred] a component of the sciatic nerve to the brachial plexus," said Paolo Titolo. He was one of the surgeons who performed the operation. He recently spoke with Reuters news agency.

The patient is Marcello Gaviglio, a 55-year-old healthcare worker. He had half of his left leg amputated after he was hit by a motorbike five months ago. The accident happened while he was travelling to work on his small, motorized bike called a moped.

He suffered serious injuries to his brachial plexus as well as his leg. The damage to his upper body left him unable to use both of his hands.

Because the part of the sciatic nerve that controlled his left foot was no longer needed, it could be transferred to the shoulder area. On December 21, doctors carried out the operation. They hope it will give him the ability to use his left hand.

Gaviglio will need about five months of special care after the operation. For now, he is still unable to move the hand at all.

Nerve transfer surgery is not new. But normally it does not involve moving a nerve that controls the foot to an area that controls the hand. For that reason, doctors involved in the operation are calling it "pioneering."

"We think this is pioneering surgery because if it works it means that the brain plasticity can control ... other parts of the body that we didn't expect," Titolo said. He added that the surgery opens new fields in nerve studies.

The aim is to restore "some grasp function" to the hand. That means the ability to hold objects. Titolo explained that this can help the other hand to do things.

The operation was the result of four years of research. It was published in the medical journal Injury.

Gaviglio, the patient, said he had given little thought to the pioneering part of the operation. He said he just felt that there was a chance for a good result. He said he thought about depending on a "team of very good doctors" and being able to move his hand again "a little bit."

I'm Anna Matteo.

Alex Fraser reported this story from Turin, Italy. Anna Matteo adapted this story for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

surgery –n. a medical operation

amputate –v. to remove a limb, such as an arm or leg, from the body to save a patient

paralyzed –adj. being unable to move

transfer –v. to move from one place to another

component –n. a part of a larger device or system

pioneering –adj. doing something or using new ideas for the first time; to be among the earliest people doing some activity

plasticity –n. the quality of being able to be changed into a different form