Damien House continues to dedicate itself to improving the lives of persons with Hansen’s by giving the best treatments available. Since 2004, we have collaborated with peripheral nerve surgeons who call themselves Annie’s Angels. The group Annie’s Angels comes from the US to perform nerve decompression surgeries on our patients. Why do our patients need these surgeries? Our patients suffer from disabilities including clawed hands, “drop” feet, burns, and amputations. These disabilities are caused by the bacteria M. leprae, which is responsible for Hansen’s, directly attacking the nerves and the body’s immune reaction to the bacteria. The bacterium thrives in cooler, peripheral environments of the body, so it often targets the nerves of the arms, legs, and face. When the nerves are injured, they can swell and become compressed by their surroundings in the body. This results in neuropathy, or the loss of the nerves’ motor and sensory functions, and is why patients with Hansen’s lose their ability to move their hands and feet and their ability to feel pain when they are hurt or burned. The patients lose part of their connection with the world, previously sustained through movement and touch! The peripheral nerve d compression surgeries are intended to reverse some of the damage caused by the compressed nerves and also to prevent development of further disability. Over the years, we have had a great number of surgeries–over 100!–with many success stories. However, in the world’s medical literature, these surgeries have never been adequately shown to be successful, mostly due to old technology that has limited the interpretation of results. Along with our mission, we wanted to fi ll in this gap of knowledge by sharing our experience with patients and advocates of Hansen’s around the world. Eric Wan is a volunteer who came to Damien House for four months to do just that. He works with A Lee Dellon, MD, PhD, from Baltimore, Maryland in the United States. Dr. Dellon is one of Annie’s Angels who came here in 2005 to do nerve decompression surgery on some of our patients. At that time, Dr. Dellon donated one of his inventions, the Pressure Specifi ed Sensory Device (PSSD), which allows us to catch neuropathy in our patients early, halt the damage, and monitor their improvement. Using the PSSD, Eric has been performing follow-up research on our patients so that it can be scientifically proven that these nerve decompression surgeries help our patients. He has seen that the majority of our patients have improved motor function and sensation owing to the surgery. The patients unfortunately cannot regrow any missing digits, but after surgery they can move and feel with those digits that they still have. These surgeries really can connect our patients with the world around them! Now it’s time to share our experience with the Hansen’s patients of the world. We hope that soon these surgeries can be performed in other countries with Hansen’s patients suffering from disabilities due to nerve damage from the disease.
Volunteer Eric Wan performs nerve conduction testing on Sister Luz.