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Iowa Man Hopes to Celebrate Phrenic Nerve Surgery by Running a Marathon

Dr. Matthew Kaufman Is the Only Known Expert to Perform Specialized Phrenic Nerve Surgery

Man Running

Kurt Matthewson went out for his typical run one morning, and, quite suddenly, had trouble breathing. “I couldn’t take a deep breath,” was how he felt. When the problem persisted, he went to his family physician, and then to a specialist, who determined the 48-year-old Madrid, Iowa resident was working on only 50 percent lung capacity.

Tests revealed the left side of his diaphragm was not functioning. The diaphragm muscle is the primary muscle involved in breathing. Contraction of the diaphragm muscle permits expansion of the chest cavity and inhalation of air into the lungs. The cause of phrenic nerve damage is sometimes very easy to pinpoint, such as surgery to the neck or chest, or an accident; however, sometimes, as in Matthewson’s case, it can be difficult to discern.

Over the next several years, Matthewson twice traveled to a very famous major medical center. After the first time, he waited for two years, hoping the problem would abate. When he returned to the same center for testing, they found no change in his diaphragm function and suggested plication, a surgical procedure that pulls the diaphragm down. Matthewson was not inclined to do that surgery, and when he asked the specialist at this renowned institution about nerve grafting, the doctor answered back, “There is no such thing.”

Four years removed from the problem, Matthewson found Dr. Matthew Kaufman on the Internet, for whom phrenic nerve surgery is, in fact, a reality. Among his nerve surgery expertise which he performs 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 over 75 times, on patients from age 11 to over 70 from all over the USA and one from Australia.

In addition to a career as a commercial lender in the banking industry, Kurt Matthewson is a lifelong athlete whose resume includes a career as a collegiate golfer and a period of time in his 40s as an amateur competitive natural bodybuilder.

He traveled to New Jersey in 2012 to undergo surgery with Dr. Kaufman, who as part of his usual procedure, did a nerve transplant with a graft taken from Matthewson’s ankle.

According to Dr. Kaufman, “We are optimistic that Mr. Matthewson will regain substantial diaphragm function after undergoing phrenic nerve surgery and that he will see progressive improvements over the next two to three years as the regenerated nerve leads to gradual muscle recovery.”

Kurt Matthewson’s surgery was six months ago. Reports Matthewson, “Today I’m feeling better. I feel my breathing is improved. I’m going to fight the good fight.” To that end, Matthewson, who is now regularly running, has set himself a goal. Since he believes long distance running is the ultimate test of breathing, his goal is to run a marathon (26.2 miles) on the one year anniversary of his surgery, July 20, 2013. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to celebrate my improvement.”