Frankie Davis was 10 years-old when he was in an ATV accident that ripped the skin, muscle and nerve off his arm – nearly to the bone. At the time, doctors were uncertain how much hand function he would regain. But two years later, he has made significant strides in recovery thanks to a new nerve replacement procedure.
“My niece was driving the ATV and saw a car coming at them,” said Frankie’s mother, Mary Davis. “The road wasn’t paved, and when she pulled over, the right wheel got caught in a gulley. She tried to pull out but the ATV flipped on the passenger’s side and [part of the vehicle] landed on his arm.
"The interior of his right arm was basically washed away,” Davis said.
Frankie was taken to O'Connor Hospital in Delhi, N.Y., where the doctors realized his injury was a level IV trauma – which they were unequipped to care for – and transferred him to Albany Medical Center.
At first, surgeons had difficulty assessing the extent of Frankie’s injury because the wound was so dirty from the dirt and gravel on the road, Davis said. Frankie’s initial surgery merely involved washing out the wound.
Once the area was cleaned, Frankie’s surgeon Dr. Jerome Chao, former chief of plastic surgery at Albany Medical College, noticed right away that part of the nerve in Frankie’s arm was gone – approximately 3.5 inches of it.
Without the nerve, Frankie had lost feeling and some function in his dominant hand, particularly in his ring and pinky finger.
Standard procedure for this type of nerve injury would be to graft nerve from elsewhere in the body – such as the leg or foot – to replace missing nerve in the arm. However, this procedure, known as nerve autograft, would have resulted in Frankie losing feeling in the location from where the nerve would have been taken.
“Autograft means you have to take the nerve from someplace else that…‘won’t be missed’ and move it to the place where you have to reconstruct the nerve,” explained plastic surgeon Dr. Darrell Brooks of The Buncke Clinic in San Francisco, CA. “You’re creating a deficit in one area to treat a deficit in another.