Patient to Undergo Phrenic Nerve Procedure with Dr. Matthew Kaufman
Revital Haik already had an uphill battle with her health. Two years ago, she endured not one, but two operations for thyroid cancer. The surgeries were only three months apart.
Hoping for relief, the 41-year-old native Israeli awoke from her second surgery with an entirely different sensation. She reported “serious breathing difficulties”.
“At first I thought it had something to do with the anesthesia, because slowly the distress subsided. But I was still left with a breathing difficulty that I didn’t previously have. My ability to speak was impacted and quite weakened. It is hard to speak fluidly because I get such a small amount of air into my lungs.”
According to Haik, her doctors told her it was “just emotional stress”, essentially ignoring her complaints. Her troubles increased, however, and she eventually contracted pneumonia, a consequence of what would prove to be a result of a damaged phrenic nerve.
Haik eventually found her way to Professor Mordechai Kramer at Rabin Medical Center at Beilinson Hospital. Kramer is a renowned expert in all areas of pulmonary care, and the head of the Pulmonary Institute, the largest and most advanced in Israel. As he had in the past with previous patients, he referred Haik to Dr. Matthew Kaufman of The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction in Shrewsbury, NJ.
Unfortunately, Haik’s story was not uncommon for Dr. Kaufman who continually sees patients with paralyzed diaphragms resulting from surgeries, injuries or accidents. Subsequently, these patients have dangerous, life-altering symptoms and their medical professionals often tell them that they “just have to live with it”. Yet Dr. Kaufman offers an alternative. He is the only known surgeon to perform specialized phrenic nerve surgery.
The phrenic nerve controls function of the diaphragm muscle, the primary muscle involved in breathing. Treatment options for phrenic nerve injury have been limited to either nonsurgical therapy or diaphragm plication, neither of which attempts to restore normal function to the paralyzed diaphragm.
However, advances in nerve decompression and transplant have enabled Dr. Kaufman to reverse diaphragm paralysis. The techniques he utilizes are derived from the procedures commonly used to treat arm or leg paralysis, which allow surgeons to restore function to previously paralyzed muscle groups.
To date, Dr. Kaufman has performed this specialized procedure over 200 times since 2007 at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in New Jersey and at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Medical Center. Well versed on the matter, he has also published various academic articles on phrenic nerve surgery.
For his unique expertise and experience, Dr. Kaufman is sought after by patients of all ages from around the world including Australia, Canada, and Israel. Haik is among these patients.
A mother of six children (including 6-year-old twins) and an administrator in the Borsa (Israeli stock exchange), Haik relates, “It was hard to come to the decision to be operated on. After all, it’s my third neck surgery after a difficult period with cancer… But after a year and a half, I decided, especially as the mother of little children: I’m too young to live like an old person.”
Her decision, however, was not made without contemplation. Haik consulted with her personal rabbi and Rabbi Avraham Firer, chairman and founder of Ezra LeMarpeh, a non-profit organization in Israel that provides significant medical assistance.
While Dr. Kaufman cannot be sure of the extent of the problem until the surgery, he is guardedly optimistic. “I have dealt with this problem before [phrenic nerve damage due to thyroid surgery] and most of the patients have done extremely well. Preliminary test results lead us to believe that Revital has a high likelihood of a favorable outcome.”
Haik will arrive in New Jersey at the end of June for her surgery with Dr. Kaufman. Her sister, also a mother of young children, will be escorting her. Says Haik, “Our husbands are staying home with the children, along with our dedicated mother.”