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Restoring hand function with surgery

hands with flower.jpg

Someone close to me has scleroderma. I didn't know much about the autoimmune disease before she was diagnosed, but I remember feeling a sense of dread when I learned the disorder's name came from the Greek words skleros (hard) and derma (skin). It sounded, to put it mildly, pretty scary.

Indeed, aspects of the disease - which can cause hardening of the skin, and tissue damage to various internal organs - can be scary. So I was heartened to read about a surgical treatment (there is no cure) for the severe hand damage and pain that afflicts some patients.

The procedure is called a digital sympathectomy, and it involves opening the wrist and palm to strip away scar tissue that prevents the fingers from working properly. In a Stanford Hospital article, a patient said her doctor explained to her "that scar-like tissue had encircled her hand’s blood vessels 'like a piece of twine wrapping around a garden hose, and that you had to strip away the twine.'"

In the article, plastic surgeon James Chang, MD, emphasized that this is a technically difficult and challenging procedure - and it's clearly for people with the most severe cases. (The hands of the patient profiled in the piece were so damaged that amputation had become a possibility). But the surgery can have a huge effect for those who need it: "We’re setting back the clock of the effects of scleroderma on hand blood vessels by 10 to 12 years," Chang said.

Photo by Hamed Saber

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