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"He never gave up. He always kept going."
At birth, Matthew Coleman's left arm was limp. He was diagnosed with neonatal brachial plexus palsy, meaning there was damage to the nerves that control the arm. Matthew's parents were given no hope that Matthew would ever gain use of his left arm. At age 5, Matthew was referred to the Brachial Plexus Center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, where he had shoulder surgery to improve shoulder alignment and function.
Matthew Coleman was welcomed into the world by his loving parents, Todd and Jessica, and a team of neonatal specialists concerned for his health after a stressful and difficult labor. During the birth process, Matthew became stuck in the birth canal, requiring the repeated use of vacuum extraction. Immediately following his birth, the family and medical staff noticed that Matthew's left arm was limp. After ruling out broken bones from X-rays, Matthew was diagnosed with neonatal brachial plexus palsy, which is damage to a network of nerves in the neck that controls the arm and hand. His parents were not offered much hope that their newborn son would ever gain use of his arm.
When he was 2 months old, while resting in his bassinet, Matthew surprised his mom by lifting his arm. After an excited phone call to his pediatrician, Matthew's mom arranged for Matthew to begin Occupational Therapy. Matthew continued therapy for years, gaining some use of his arm and hand and living a "typical life." "We never treated him any differently because of his injury. He just had to make some adaptations with his arm," Jessica says. "Since he couldn't turn his arm so the palm of his hand faced up (supination), there are things he couldn't do. To adjust, he would use the back of his hand. He never gave up. He always kept going."
Despite his ability to excel with the challenges his arm presented, as Matthew approached his fifth birthday he began to have pain in his shoulder. He could not carry a book bag and wanted desperately to play football. His family decided to seek treatment from their local hospital, where they were given the disappointing news that nothing could be done to improve the function in Matthew's arm or reduce the pain. Unwilling to give up, Jessica was optimistic when Matthew's occupational therapist suggested a visit to the Brachial Plexus Center at Cincinnati Children's, where a team of multidisciplinary experts specialize in treating brachial plexus injuries.
At his initial visit to the Cincinnati Children's Brachial Plexus Center, Matthew was examined by Charles T. Mehlman, DO, MPH, pediatric orthopaedic surgeon; Linda Michaud, MD, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist; and Allison Allgier, OTR/L, occupational therapist. The Brachial Plexus team recommended surgery to improve Matthew's range of motion, diminish the pain and allow him to rotate his arm into supination (a position allowing his palm to face upward). Upon hearing that there was a procedure that could help her son, Jessica felt relief. "We had a little bit of hope that we didn't have before," Jessica says.
Prior to surgery, an Electromyogram (EMG) and Nerve Conduction Test was performed on Matthew to detect which muscles were functioning. An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) was also done to determine the shoulder's structure. Both tests confirmed the Brachial Plexus Team's opinion that Matthew could benefit from surgical intervention.
Deciding whether or not to put Matthew through surgery was very difficult for Jessica and Todd, who did not want their precious son to experience the pain. Ultimately, they decided to go through with the procedure in hopes that Matthew's dream of playing football would come true.
Matthew underwent shoulder surgery performed by Dr. Mehlman. The surgery involved an arthroscopic release of the subscapularis tendon and anterior capsule of the shoulder. The arthroscopic portion was performed through two small poke-holes that are often so small that stitches are unnecessary. In addition, an open release of the pectoralis muscle was completed through a small incision. Essentially, these procedures loosened tightened muscles and tendons to allow Matthew's arm to move more freely. With these relatively non-invasive procedures, Matthew was able to achieve increased range of motion at his shoulder, which improved alignment and allowed for improved function throughout his entire arm.
After the surgery, Matthew was in a brace for six weeks. His mother describes this stage of his recovery as a long road that was difficult to watch, knowing it was uncomfortable for Matthew at times. His mom's solution to Matthew's discomfort was a lot of TLC and ibuprofen. When Matthew came out of the brace, his family was thrilled to notice an immediate improvement in his arm. Jessica describes the results of his surgery as amazing. "For a child who couldn't turn his hand over at all before, it was extraordinary," Jessica says. "The first time he did it I cried. It was so exciting. It made everything he went through worthwhile."
Jessica describes the care Matthew receives at Cincinnati Children's as excellent. She believes it is worth the waiting time at clinic visits. "Dr. Mehlman takes his time with each family and explains everything. You know when you walk away, you'll have the answers to all your questions," Jessica says. "If we need more surgeries, we know who's going to do them. You need to know somebody you can trust. That person is Dr. Mehlman."
If you have an experience with Cincinnati Children's, we invite you to share your story.
As part of one of the nation's leading pediatric medical centers, the Brachial Plexus Center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center is recognized for its accomplished team of specialists. Our successful treatments for pediatric brachial plexus injuries and Erb's Palsy are directly related to treating the whole family with respect and compassion.
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