The University’s Brachial Plexus Program is partnering with Spring Arbor University faculty and students to improve the quality of life for child patients living with brachial plexus palsy.

Neonatal brachial plexus palsy is a chronic condition that occurs during pregnancy and childbirth that results in paralysis and the loss of sensation in the arm of the child. The condition can be partially corrected through surgery and physical therapy, but there’s a need for research to improve the management of the lifelong condition.

The research conducted in the partnership will be unique because it doesn’t intend to find a cure but instead aims to help patients suffering from the condition with their quality of life, said Lynda Yang, associate professor of neurological surgery.

Kimberly Rupert, provost of Spring Arbor University — which is located in Spring Arbor Township, about 60 miles southwest of Ann Arbor — said because the majority of existing research focuses on finding a cure, any new treatment findings will be significant for patients.

“There is an amazing paucity of research in this area, so anything we’re able to do will directly contribute to the improvement of treatment and quality of life ongoing for the patients,” Rupert said.

The inspiration for this research grew out of Yang’s experiences with affected patients in the University program.

“When we start seeing these patients in the clinic, you realize how much they need in terms of just addressing activities of daily life and their functional impairments,” Yang said.

The Brachial Plexus Program draws upon many disciplines within University of Michigan Health System, including orthopedics, general surgery and physical medicine to allow for a variety of professionals to sit on its research team.

Yang said the partnership will take advantage of the different specialties of both UMHS and students and faculty at Spring Arbor University.

“This was a good opportunity to merge the best expertise of the faculty of two institutions in order to address some of the questions that deal with quality of life,” Yang said. “Although we have much expertise medically and clinically, they have some expertise in terms of psychosocial, psychology and other things that might help the quality of life of the kids when medical science like surgery can’t really help.”

Rupert echoed Yang’s sentiment of combining expertise on the research collaboration.

“We had a meeting in which the faculty and other folks involved in the project from both sides met for the first time, and it was a very exciting event,” Rupert said. “There’s such a meshing of the minds and complementary skills brought to the party.”

Although this is a relatively new endeavor for the Brachial Plexus Program, the meetings with SAU faculty and provost have been productive enough to establish MedSAU, a charitable fund chaired by retired Sparton Corporation President David Hockenbrocht. This would make the partnership a more long-term project.

“So far, everything is heading in the right direction,” said Don Tomford, chief department administrator of neurosurgery at UMHS. “It looks like this could be a long-term collaborative effort between the department of neurosurgery brachial plexus and Spring Arbor University.”

Although the research hasn’t yet officially began, Rupert said Spring Arbor University is excited about the partnership with Lynda Yang and other colleagues at UMHS.

“We’re thrilled that the opportunity to work with such a world-class institution on an effort that will pull out the best that we have to offer and have real-world results,” Rupert said. “It’s a great opportunity for everyone.”

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