• Emily's Shoulder Surgery Eliminates Pain and Improves Function

    When Emily was born with a brachial plexus injury to her right arm, her parents, Mary and Roger, say that they had "no clue what to do." They had never met anyone with a brachial plexus injury.

    Today, Mary is the parent coordinator for the new Cincinnati Children’s Brachial Plexus Parent to Parent Support Program. She wants to offer support for other families who have a child recently diagnosed with a brachial plexus injury.

    Seeking Treatment for Pain Relief

    The first ten years of Emily's life, her brachial plexus injury wasn't much of an issue.

    Emily could move her hand well but had limited use of her shoulder. She compensated by using her left arm and found her own way to do things.

    Then, at age 11, she began having a lot of pain in her arm at night.

    Emily's pediatrician referred her to the Brachial Plexus Center at Cincinnati Children's to explore her treatment options. What Emily and her parents found exceeded their expectations. "In addition to offering pain relief, we were excited to hear that something could be done to improve her ability to move her arm," says Mary.

    After a few clinic visits and tests, including an MRI and EMG, the Brachial Plexus Team recommended shoulder surgery aimed at eliminating the pain and increasing function in her arm.

    Shoulder Surgery

    Six months after her first visit to the Brachial Plexus Center, Emily underwent shoulder surgery.

    Charles T. Mehlman, DO, MPH, loosened some of Emily's muscles and tendons through two small poke-holes that didn't even require stitches after the surgery.

    He also released an additional muscle in the front of her shoulder that was felt to be causing her pain.

    Through a small incision in her armpit, he transferred a muscle to improve Emily's ability to use her arm.

    Benefits of Surgery

    Although recovery was more difficult than the family expected, they all agree it was worthwhile.

    Emily and her family have noticed improvements in:

    • Mobility. Emily can move her arm in ways that she never could before the surgery. "Emily's ability to use her arm is unbelievably better," says Emily's mom. "Things are so much easier for her now. She doesn't even have to think about doing something she couldn't do before."
    • Physical appearance. Emily's shoulders are more symmetrical and aligned. Emily says, "No one asks me about my arm anymore because it looks normal."
    • Lack of pain. Emily reports no pain in her arm.

    A Bright Future

    The Brachial Plexus Team is pleased with Emily's outcome. "Years ago brachial plexus patients like Emily would have been told to be happy with what they had. Today it is a real pleasure to use the minimally invasive procedures we have at our disposal to help eliminate pain and achieve all of the upper extremity function we can," says Dr. Mehlman. "For Emily it was easy, because she and her family had a great positive attitude and clear goals that aided the entire process."

    Emily's mom knows that the outcome from the surgery will have a positive impact on Emily's life as she grows. "I can see that there are benefits from having the surgery that Emily doesn't even realize yet."

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