Nerve Transplant Surgery Gives Hope to Stroke Victims

A delicate nerve transplant surgery could actually reverse paralysis in stroke victims.

A New Jersey man is currently recovering from the rare nerve surgery that doctors hope will give him back use of his right side, which he lost after suffering a stroke.

Doctors took healthy nerves from the legs of Vinni Filipini, 44, and connected them to his right arm, which he cannot use.

"This is the first time we have done this for a stroke patient," said Dr. Andrew Elkwood, chairman of the division of Plastic Surgery Monmouth Medical.

Elkwood says only half of Filipini's brain is working, and compares it to a house where only half of the outlets are on. Elkwood explains that by taking nerves from the legs and forming what he calls an "extension cord" of sorts, he can run that cord through Filipini's body (the so-called hallways of the house) and bypass the part of his brain that's not working.

The surgery intends to actually create a nerve tunnel across Filipini's chest to reach his bad arm and thereby bring new life to the nerves in the arm that right now don't work.

The surgery went as planned, but it will take months of recovery and therapy to determine the results. The nerve has to regrow along the grafted one at a rate of one inch per month. Doctors say they don't expect the arm to ever be fully restored, but certainly regaining much more use is possible.

"He has a long road ahead of him. We won't know if the surgery was successful for about 6 months to 1 year," said Elkwood.

"We were elated. We really were. We were absolutely elated," said his wife, Kathy Filipini. "We saw him come out. I mean we had our trust in [Elkwood], but you always get worried. I believe this is all going to turn his life around."