Segments in this Video

Loren's Story (05:06)


Each year, millions of people suffer peripheral nerve damage and paralysis. In 2007, Loren Schaller, age 15, was stabbed by a prison parolee in a San Francisco bakery. Her parents Linda and Tim explain how strangers intervened to save her life.

Complications from a Stabbing (02:41)

When Loren woke after surgery, she could not move her arm. Doctors thought a blood clot was responsible, and later discovered the nerves were cut and needed reconnecting. However, surgeons could not locate nerve endings through scar tissue and gave up.

Michael's Story (03:33)

Illinois attorney Michael Dietchweiler reconstructs a freak accident in which a chain saw was embedded in his neck and spine. Doctors said reconstructive surgery would not provide enough strength to hold the shoulder and recommended a fusion.

Search for Solutions (03:23)

Loren's parents worried about her sudden dependence and doctors provided no long term plan. Then they heard about St. Louis surgeon Dr. Susan MacKinnon, who was pioneering a method of rerouting healthy nerves into damaged areas and preventing unnecessary amputations.

Nerve Transfers (02:40)

Loren describes meeting Dr. Susan MacKinnon in St. Louis. Dr. MacKinnon explains that there is redundancy within the nervous system; extra nerves can substitute for damaged ones. She wanted to operate on Loren as soon as possible, due to Loren's fifth degree injury.

Time is Muscle (01:55)

Operating on damaged nerves within six months improves recovery chances. Loren's nerve transfer surgery was four months after her injury, with a two year rehabilitation.

"Orphaned" Nerve Surgery (03:05)

Michael's doctor found Dr. MacKinnon three months after his injury. She transferred redundant nerves from mobile fingers to the forearm and bicep; he can now move his hand. MacKinnon continues pushing the envelope in the field.

What's an EMG Test? (02:53)

Electromyography tests assess nerve ability to conduct electricity and muscular reaction; Michael compares the experience to being tasered. MacKinnon acknowledges she cannot help every patient. Her husband Alec Patterson has supported her pioneering work; they have also raised four children.

Chelsey's Story (04:24)

Chelsey Kolkmann's arm is paralyzed after a car accident, but she came to MacKinnon early enough for nerve transfer surgery. Physical therapist Lorna Kahn provides perspective on functional needs; she and MacKinnon decide Michael does not need another surgery since he is regaining movement.

Positive Results (03:36)

Three months after her nerve transfer surgery, Loren could move her formerly paralyzed arm. Kahn explains the role of physical therapy in training patients to use rewired areas of the brain to control damaged limbs.

Developing Nerve Transfer Surgery (04:20)

Chelsey prepares for her operation. MacKinnon uses an electrical wiring analogy to explain her novel approach, stemming from nerve grafting and allotransplantation. During surgery, she stimulates Chelsey's arm nerves to determine which are damaged and available for transfer.

Tom's Story (03:21)

MacKinnon innovates in increments. Retired trauma surgeon Tom Wachtel is quadriplegic with shoulder and elbow movement, but no hand function. MacKinnon successfully spliced the brachialis to the median nerve; Tom is now able to feed himself.

Improving Combat Injury Outcomes (02:48)

Improved Kevlar body armor is lowering mortality rates, but peripheral nerve injuries remain common. MacKinnon launched a website to share nerve transfer techniques with surgeons around the world, including medical teams in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jerice's Story (02:57)

At the Walter Reed National Military Center, a medical team works with Jerice Boston, who sustained a peripheral nerve injury while serving in Afghanistan. They refer to MacKinnon's website while preparing to do a nerve transfer surgery.

Rehabilitation Process (02:30)

After her nerve transfer surgery, Chelsey works with Lorna to regain mobility, control, and strength in her injured arm. View her physical therapy sessions over two years. Chelsey is inspired to become an occupational therapist.

Advancing Peripheral Nerve Injury Outcomes (05:18)

MacKinnon speaks about her nerve transfer surgery innovations at a 2013 TedTalk. She has won awards for her medical breakthrough. Loren can now lift her injured arm above her head and is studying to become a costume designer.

Credits: A Spark Of Nerve (01:15)

Credits: A Spark Of Nerve

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A Spark Of Nerve

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Loren was fifteen when nerves in her neck were severed in a stabbing. The neurosurgeon said her arm would never move again.  Michael, an Illinois attorney faced a similar diagnosis after a freak accident embedded a chain saw into his neck, paralyzing his arm.  Eighteen-year-old Chelsey survived a horrific car accident in St. Louis, but her arm was also useless.  None of these patients were willing to accept paralysis or worse, possible amputation.  Dr. Susan E. Mackinnon’s pioneering work in peripheral nerve transfer surgery is restoring movement to limbs that many doctors believe to be permanently paralyzed. She is also creating a teaching website to share her groundbreaking surgical “recipes” with surgeons around the world. This film is a story of personal triumph and medical innovation— inspiring those suffering from nerve injuries to seek out doctors who can perform these life changing surgeries.

Length: 56 minutes

Item#: FMK124200

ISBN: 978-1-63521-719-3

Copyright date: ©2016

Closed Captioned

Performance Rights

Prices include public performance rights.

Not available to Home Video customers.

Only available in USA.