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Italian Marcello Gaviglio could regain use of his hand after nervous transfer of amputated leg

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A man could regain the use of his hand, paralyzed by a serious road accident, thanks to a pioneering nerve transfer operation on his partially amputated leg, doctors in northern Italy said.

Surgeons at the Municipal Hospital of Turin (CTO) transferred part of the man’s sciatic nerve, which controlled the movement of his amputated foot, to his brachial plexus, the network of nerves that connect the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm and hand.

“This is the first time that someone has transferred a component of the sciatic nerve to the brachial plexus,” Paolo Titolo, one of the surgeons who performed the operation, said in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday.

Marcello Gaviglio, a 55-year-old health worker, had to have half of his left leg amputated after being hit by a motorcycle five months ago while riding his moped to work.

He suffered serious injuries to his brachial plexus as well as his leg, leaving him unable to use either of his hands.

As the part of the sciatic nerve that controlled his left foot was no longer needed, it was able to be transferred to the shoulder during the operation carried out on December 21, potentially restoring mobility to one of his hands.

Marcello Gaviglio had part of his sciatic nerve from his amputated leg moved to his brachial plexus, the network of nerves that connect the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm and hand. REUTERS
The operation took place at the CTO hospital in Turin on December 21, after months of post-operative care. REUTERS

Before knowing if this is possible, Gaviglio will need to undergo approximately 5 months of post-operative care. For now, he is still unable to move his hand.

Nerve transfer surgery is not new, but it has not previously involved moving a nerve that normally controls the foot to an area that controls the hand.

“We believe this is a pioneering surgery because if it works, it means brain plasticity can also control other parts of the body that we didn’t expect and also opens up new areas in neurological studies ” said Titolo.

The goal is to restore “some gripping function” to the hand, which can then also help the other hand do things, he added.

The procedure is the result of four years of research and was published in the medical journal Injury.

Surgeon Paolo Titolo and Gaviglio speak after the operation on December 27, 2023. REUTERS
Gaviglio had to have half of his left leg amputated after being hit by a motorbike five months ago while riding his moped to work. REUTERS
He also suffered serious injuries to his brachial plexus as well as his leg, leaving him unable to use either of his hands. REUTERS

Gaviglio, the patient, said he gave little thought to the pioneering aspect of the operation, he just thought it was an opportunity he should take advantage of.

“I thought about relying on a team of very good doctors and being able to move my hand a little again,” he said.




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