Going Out on a Limb
Nerve surgeon Susan Mackinnon has new ways to save arms and legs
But the larger medical community--filled with surgeons who specialize in everything except nerves--has been slow to pick up on this. "The classic teaching is that nerve repairs don't work. Most doctors don't even know new techniques exist," says Elkwood. That ignorance means there are a lot of needless amputations, adds Allan Belzberg, a neurosurgeon and director of peripheral nerve surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. "We can save many of these limbs. If I have a message for general surgeons, it's please don't sit on these injuries. Get them to people who can help."
Most often, it's the patients who refuse to be written off who get this aid, says Renata Weber, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City who learned the craft from Mackinnon. "A lot of people do their own searches on the Internet, and they find Susan because she's got an international reputation," she says. Or they find former students like Weber, or Belzberg and the handful of other surgeons who work in this area.
That's not enough for Mackinnon, though. "What we really need is a peripheral nerve center, at a hospital, with a concentration of experts," she says. Weber has come up with a name for the place: the Mackinnon Institute. "But she's too old-school. She's against self-promotion," says Weber. "So the rest of us will have to promote it for her!"
Born: Jan. 31, 1950, in Canada. Education: M.D., Queen's University, Ontario; residencies in general and plastic surgery; fellowships in neurosurgery and hand surgery. Family: married; four children. Books piled near desk: The Mutilated Hand; Hand Surgery, Volume 1; Moo by Jane Smiley