Thumb Allograft Helps Recipient Regain Life Normalcy

Can you imagine so much pain in your thumb that you can’t buckle a seatbelt? Having to choose between constant pain or having surgery to relieve the pain, and risking losing pinching strength? What options do you now have? Kathy shares her story about a novel technique for her thumb that changed her life.

As a daughter, wife, mom, grandma, and operating room nurse, Kathy spent the past 23 years working to help the people in her community and around the world with their surgical needs. For most of her career, she has been caring for patients during orthopedic procedures, usually total joint replacements. Ironically, she developed an orthopedic medical condition – arthritis in the thumb/wrist joint on both hands.

This might seem small, but this pain has caused her difficulty doing things that require a pinching motion, especially when force is needed. This pain affected many areas of her life both at work and home from opening sterile supplies and packages to connecting electrical cords, picking up puzzle pieces and even unbuckling her favorite sandals, bike helmets and her grandchildren’s car seat buckles.

After several years of medication, resting, and modifying her activities, the pain did not subside but worsened keeping her awake at night and affecting her daily life. In April 2016, she had her left thumb wrist joint repaired (carpometacarpal, CMC, arthroplasty) by Dr. Grant Lohse. This was the same procedure her father had about fifteen years prior. Afterwards, Kathy underwent a long six-month rehab, which forced her to switch to a desk position, allowing her to continue working in the surgical environment while her new thumb joint healed.

She returned to her previous position two years later, after the reduced physical workload and stress allowed the pain in her right thumb and wrist to disappear. Unfortunately, after about a year of the increased physical load, the right thumb pain returned. She had little choice but to undergo another surgery with Dr. Lohse. He told her about a new surgery he was doing using donor bone to fix this joint.

She agreed to try the new procedure understanding the only downside was waiting for the allograft to become available with little to no warning once the graft arrived (to have the surgery). She knew a young person would have to pass away for a graft to become available. She prayed for their loved one and their family and friends during this period, and she still does.

Several months later, the allograft became available, and her new thumb joint was transplanted. Rehab was about the same as her other surgery. About a half year later, she returned to the OR in a non-patient role where she was busy gathering supplies, cleaning, moving equipment, and other non-patient care activities. Her return was much easier finding fewer adjustments had to be made as her right thumb had more strength than the left one.

It’s been 18 months since her surgery and she can do almost everything – put together puzzles, quilting, unbuckling bike helmets and sandals and, most importantly, getting her grandkids out of their car seats.

Kathy expresses her sincerest condolences on the loss to the donor’s loved ones. She is extremely grateful that they were willing to think of others during their time of grief choosing to give the gift of life. She will be forever grateful for the gift of donation, which truly gave back her life and the ability to continue helping lives in her community.