A snowmobile accident left Blake Sunde with limited use of his right arm and triggered severe, chronic pain that lasted for years. Two years ago, a new treatment option changed everything and restored the quality of life Blake had been missing for so long.
When Blake Sunde collided head-on with another snowmobile in 2003, he suffered a devastating injury. The network of nerves that sent signals from his spinal cord to his shoulder, arm and hand — known as the brachial plexus — was ripped apart.
When Blake was thrown from his vehicle, his shoulder, head and neck were stretched in opposite directions. "That put traction on the nerve roots, and several were pulled out of the spinal cord, including those that control the hand," says Allen Bishop, M.D., a Mayo Clinic orthopedic hand and microsurgery specialist who was part of Blake's care team.
Doctors in the emergency department at the Fargo, North Dakota, hospital where Blake sought care referred him to the Brachial Plexus Clinic at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
After the accident, Blake, who was 20 years old, was unable to extend his right arm or his fingers. He also was in terrible pain and had to take two types of opioid medication to help him bear it. "In cases like Blake's, the spinal cord injury sends pain signals to the brain that are often chronic and, at times, severe," Dr. Bishop says.