Local News

New Procedure Helping Mend Hard-To-Fix Fractures

Posted October 24, 2003

— For years, people with broken collarbones have had to let the injury heal on its own. The approach is changing.

Tight turns at high speeds is what Tom Hughes loves about competitive cycling.

"It's an adrenaline rush," he said.

It is also what caused a painful injury.

"People started falling down in front of me. I didn't have time to get out of the way," he said.

Hughes broke his collarbone.

"I could feel the two pieces of broken bone moving," he said.

Doctors used to leave breaks like his alone. Recovery was a painful,and sometimes long process.

Dr. Laurence Dahners, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a growing number of orthopedic surgeons repairing some fractures using a titanium pin or metal plate to put the bone back together.

Dahners said the procedure is best for uneven breaks, like the one Hughes suffered, which tend to take longer to heal.

"And when the fracture heals, they leave a bump where the bones were out of place," Dahners said.

Five months after Hughes' accident, part of the pin is still visible on his chest, but he said memories of the wreck are fading. He is excited, but cautious, about his next race.

The procedure is still somewhat tricky, since there are major blood vessels under the collarbone that the surgeon has to avoid.

Dahners expects that the procedure will be come routine in the next five to 10 years.


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