ST. LOUIS (AP) — Hazelwood police officer Craig Tudor was fighting for his life in an ambulance after a rollover crash in his police cruiser when he asked his friend to hold his hand. Tudor didn't realize that Kevin Marshall already was.
Marshall, a Hazelwood firefighter, had pulled Tudor from the wreckage moments before. He realized his friend was paralyzed from a spinal cord injury.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tudor underwent a rare surgery Thursday that could help restore some of his independence.
Tudor, now 38, uses a wheelchair because he has had no control of his body from the chest down since the accident in August 2016. He can maneuver his elbow enough to cause his hand to bump the joystick that moves the wheelchair.
Otherwise, his relies on his wife, Christine, for simple tasks like writing, bathing, grooming.
On Thursday, he underwent the first of what could be as many as four surgeries. It could be two years before he knows whether the procedures, known as nerve transfers, restored some function to his hands.
"I'm not going to be lifting a concrete block or playing the piano, but maybe I'll be able to hold a pen or regular silverware," he said. "That's the hope. But it's not guaranteed."
Tudor was responding to an officer-in-need-of-aid call with his lights and siren activated on Aug. 25, 2016. The Missouri State Highway Patrol said another driver tried to make a left turn in front of him. The collision caused the police cruiser to overturn.
Tudor's ability to move his elbows means his injury is low enough on his spinal cord to still send messages to the nerves in at least part of his arms.
In Thursday's surgery, Washington University neurosurgeon Wilson "Zach" Ray had enough active nerves to splice and connect to inactive nerves in Tudor's forearm that control his hands.
In essence, the surgery bypasses the spinal cord injury.
Washington University doctors became the first to use the procedure to restore the ability to flex the thumb and index finger after a spinal cord injury, according to a study published online in May 2012 in the Journal of Neurosurgery.
Tudor faces a rigorous schedule, including physical therapy two to four times a week and a daily therapy regimen at home to teach the brain the nerve that once moved a part of his elbow has been re-circuited to move his fingers. His goal is to use a manual wheelchair he can push with his arms and hands.