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Plast Reconstr Surg. 2002 Jul;110(1):104-9; discussion 110-1.

Full-length phrenic nerve transfer by means of video-assisted thoracic surgery in treating brachial plexus avulsion injury.

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Institute of Hand Surgery, Hua Shan Hospital, Shanghai 200040, PR China.


Phrenic nerve transfer has been widely used in treating brachial plexus avulsion injury. However, the present method crosses the thoracic part of the phrenic nerve, and nerve graft is needed, resulting in a long period of regeneration and partly irreversible muscle atrophy. We present our early experience of using video-assisted thoracic surgery to harvest a full length of phrenic nerve for transfer. Fifteen patients (mean age, 28 years) were treated. The thoracic part of the phrenic nerve was freed by means of video-assisted thoracic surgery and taken out of the thoracic cavity, and a full-length phrenic nerve was transferred to the musculocutaneous nerve to recover elbow flexion. The patients were followed. Another 29 patients with long-term follow-up who underwent traditional cervical phrenic nerve to musculocutaneous nerve transfer in our institute between 1994 and 1997 were selected. The period of newborn potential appearing in the biceps and the period for biceps to achieve M3 between two groups were compared. The operation was safe and no complications occurred. The additional length of phrenic nerve was 12.3 +/- 4.5 cm. Eleven patients received sufficient follow-up. Eight patients achieved biceps recovery to M3 (elbow flexion against gravity), and mean time was 198.8 +/- 36.0 days, much earlier than that of the traditional method (p < 0.01). Pulmonary function recovered to the preoperative level 9 months after operation. This new method is safe and minimally invasive. The result of full-length phrenic nerve transfer is much better than that of the traditional method. It obviously shortens the time required for nerve reinnervation, and offers a promising method for patients who have had a long interval from injury to operation and for forearm muscle reconstruction by phrenic nerve transferred to the median nerve or combined with free-muscle transfer.

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