New surgery can ease pain for thousands

December 31, 2008 3:17:48 PM PST
Thousands of patients every year experience pain for months, even years, after having a surgery or trauma. Disrupted nerves can also leave a patient with numbness and burning sensations caused by nerve compression or mechanical interruption. Amputees can experience this pain at the site where their amputation took place because the very bottom part of the nerves closest to the stump can get in to the scar tissue as it forms. This is common in lower extremity amputee patients and can make it difficult to utilize a prosthetic leg.

Now, patients who are experiencing post-operative pain more than six months after undergoing surgery have a new option that may eliminate their pain for good. Harry Freedman, an avid cyclist, had the surgery.

For a few years, pain forced Harry to stop peddling. "It was debilitating,' said Harry Freedman, an amputee. "It was hard for me to work. It was hard for me to sleep. You know, it's just hard to live."

A bulldozer ran over him at work, severing his leg. "The tires are five feet tall," he said, "and he hit me with one of the tires."

Harry lived in agony for a year. "Let's say there's a storm and the telephone pole falls down and there's a live wire sparking on the road, that's what it feels like."

Georgetown University hospital plastic surgeon Ivica Ducic helped to ease his pain with the procedure he developed called peripheral nerve surgery.

Dr. Ducic, an M.D. and Ph.D. in Washington, D.C., removed the damaged part of the nerve and implanted it into the muscle, basically protecting the end of the nerve so it won't grow back and it won't cause any more pain. "The cause is the painful terminal end of the nerve," says Dr. Ducic.

This procedure can also ease the pain of a patient who has undergone surgery and suffers from post-operative groin, testicular and vulvar pain.

The procedure is for anyone who's had surgery and experienced pain for at least six months and drugs have failed. After 17 surgeries and several different medications, peripheral nerve surgery was one of Harry's last options ? and it worked. "That pain that I had that was so terrible is gone," he said.

Dr. Ducic has performed this outpatient procedure 55 times over the last 18 months and says it has an 85-90% success rate.

WEB PRODUCED BY: Lila Corn, Eyewitness News

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