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Chronic pain experience inspires new surgical offering

U-M physicians work with local couple to bring peripheral nerve surgery to Ann Arbor

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David L. Brown, MD, addresses the attendees and introduces A. Lee Dellon’s lecture, “Peripheral nerve surgery in 2015.”

After an accident, Sonya Persia went through several back, hip and neck surgeries, but new pain in her legs and feet never went away. Once Sonya and her husband Ray realized there are options beyond pain medication to improve her quality of life, they wanted to help others dealing with the same thing.

“Nobody knew what to do,” Ray Persia said, but they finally read an article about a procedure that fixes chronic pain caused by injury and/or compression of nerves.

The Persias traveled out of state for the surgeries, and now the couple from Highland, Mich., are advocates and donors, helping to bring the option of peripheral nerve surgery to patients at the U-M Health System.

Ray Persia watches as A. Lee Dellon, MD, explains the peripheral nerve surgery procedure that Ray helped to bring to U-M.

Ray Persia watches as A. Lee Dellon, MD, explains the peripheral nerve surgery procedure that Ray helped to bring to U-M.

“Basically what they do is decompress the nerves,” Ray Persia said. For his wife’s surgery, they traveled to Baltimore to see A. Lee Dellon, M.D., founder of the Dellon Institutes for Peripheral Nerve Surgery and professor of plastic surgery and neurological surgery at Johns Hopkins University. Sonya had several different surgeries, all successful, with just one problem area left.

Now, U-M’s David L. Brown, M.D., associate professor of plastic surgery, is specially trained in the identification and surgical resolution of these common yet complex challenges, helping patients by relieving pressure on a specific nerve or group of nerves.

“We’re just starting to realize the contribution of nerves to pain, and how to isolate those nerves to operate on them and relieve pain,” Brown said. “We’ve been interested in pushing forward with this surgery for some time, and the Persias gave us the ability to start offering it now.”

Plastic surgeons are uniquely positioned to provide peripheral nerve surgery because they already operate on most soft tissues from the head to the feet.

“We’re always discovering new innovations between surgery of soft tissue and outcomes,” Brown said. “Pain from nerve injuries that aren’t always obvious is becoming a more well-known issue.”

Founding physician visits U-M, gives lecture

To celebrate this peripheral nerve surgery offering at the U-M Health System, Dellon visited Ann Arbor, attending several events that culminated in a lecture about the history and future of peripheral nerve surgery. Dellon discussed how the practice came about and the ideal patients for the procedures, such as those with diabetes, groin or pelvic pain, or those who have had orthopedic procedures.

(left to right) Paul Cederna, MD, section head of Plastic Surgery, Ray Persia, David L. Brown, MD, associate professor of plastic surgery and A. Lee Dellon, MD, founder of the Dellon Institutes for Peripheral Nerve Surgery, celebrate the new offering at U-M.

(left to right) Paul Cederna, MD, section head of plastic surgery, Ray Persia, David L. Brown, MD, associate professor of plastic surgery and A. Lee Dellon, MD, founder of the Dellon Institutes for Peripheral Nerve Surgery, celebrate the new peripheral nerve surgery offering at U-M.

“We had a hypothesis that when symptoms of neuropathy are due to nerve compressions, we might have some hope to change the course for these patients,” Dellon said. “David (Brown)’s been very diligent about getting the U-M education program going, and he’ll be here to continue giving these lessons.”

Dellon showed attendees, including physicians, medical students and residents, a GIF of U-M football coach Jim Harbaugh, getting into the moment on the sidelines of one of the first football games of the 2015 season.

“If we can get you all as excited as he is, that’ll be great,” Dellon said.

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