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Dale Hopkins Sees Nephew Michael Hopkins’ Space Launch Following Surgery

Trip to Russia Possible Following Phrenic Nerve Surgery with Dr. Matthew Kaufman

Dale Hopkins-Phrenic Nerve Surgery Patient

Patient Dale Hopkins, a U.S. Air Force flight simulator instructor – Photo courtesy of Dale Hopkins

Dale Hopkins had a trip planned. After undergoing phrenic nerve surgery with Dr. Matthew Kaufman, Dale Hopkins asked Dr. Matthew Kaufman if the surgeon thought it would be okay for his patient to travel to Russia. “Go for it,” Kaufman responded.

Hopkins was thrilled when he could comfortably walk around and upstairs in Russia without being completely out of breath, as was the case prior to his surgery. He was surely even more thrilled when he witnessed the purpose of his trip: to see his nephew Michael Hopkins of NASA take off with his two Russian counterparts in their Soyuz-TMA-10M capsule, which docked successfully in the International Space Station just six hours later.

The 76-year-old Clarksville, Missouri resident was stopped at a light during Memorial Day 2012, when a chain of cars rear-ended each other, including his vehicle. “A week later, I started having trouble breathing,” he said. Hopkins made six visits to the ER and came down with both bronchitis and pneumonia. That is when a doctor diagnosed him with asthma. The asthma medications didn’t help, and his condition worsened, to the point that breathing was so difficult he had to sleep sitting up in a reclining chair. The retired U.S. Air Force colonel, who works full-time as a flight simulator instructor at an Air Force base, also gives numerous student lectures on flight operations, which he was forced to curtail.

Finally, Hopkins received a diagnosis of a paralyzed diaphragm, and with it, the exact line nearly every patient of Dr. Kaufman hears: “There’s nothing we can do; you’ll just have to learn to live with it.”

The diaphragm muscle is the primary muscle involved in breathing. Contraction of the diaphragm permits expansion of the chest cavity and inhalation of air into the lungs. The phrenic nerve controls the function of the diaphragm muscle.

International Space Station Docking Party

Dale Hopkins toasts with the head of the Russian Cosmonaut Training Program – Photo courtesy of Dale Hopkins.

The cause of phrenic nerve damage is sometimes very easy to pinpoint, such as surgery to the neck or chest, or an accident like Dale Hopkins’. Sometimes, however, the cause is unknown.

Hopkins did what many of Dr. Kaufman’s patients do: Google their condition and find Dr. Kaufman on the Internet. Among his nerve surgery expertise, performed at the Institute for Advanced Reconstruction in Shrewsbury, NJ, Dr. Kaufman is the only known surgeon to perform specialized phrenic nerve surgery. He has performed the surgery nearly 100 times, on patients from age 11 to over 70 and from all over the USA and other countries, including Australia, Ireland, and Israel.

Dale Hopkins underwent phrenic nerve surgery with Dr. Kaufman on February 26, 2013, at Jersey Shore Medical Center. Subsequently, during his September trip to Russia, Hopkins said he did “a lot of walking, and climbed five flights of stairs. Before the surgery, I don’t think I could have made it.”

Dale Hopkins is back to full-time teaching and lecturing. Seeing his nephew launched to the ISS in Russia was a thrill, but then, so was meeting Dr. Kaufman—his hope for a solution to a crippling problem. The first time he saw Dr. Kaufman, he told him, “I can’t tell you how glad I am to be here,” through tears.