Knuckle implants helping those afflicted with juvenile arthritis

About 285,000 children are diagnosed with juvenile arthritis each year. Now, with new silicone implants, those diagnosed with the illness are regaining mobility.

Juvenile arthritis causes pain so crippling that by the time those diagnosed with it reach adulthood, they can become immobile, unable to use their knees, shoulders and hands.

Although Ginamarie Russo does not wear the boxing gloves, she writes about those who do.

"It just fascinates me," said Russo. "I started going down to the gym, ringside fights."

Like many boxers, Russo herself knows what it feels like to get hit hard. At age 12, she was diagnosed with juvenile diagnosis.

"It started in one of my wrists. Shooting, shooting pain that wouldn't go away," said Russo. "It just completely took over my hand. I couldn't function anymore."

Russo's identical twin watched as her sister's right hand became crippled.

Annamarie russo

"I would hold the toothbrush, everything. The fork, I would help her eat," said Annamarie Russo.

Something Ginamarie Russo is thankful for.

Beth Israel Medical Center's orthopedic hand surgeon Charles Melone watched as Ginamarie Russo's hand deteriorates. The difference a year and a half after her diagnosis is blatant on an x-ray.

"By the time I saw her, she could barely write," said Melone, who serves as the chief of hand surgery at the New York City hospital.

Melone replaced four of the knuckles in Ginamarie Russo's right hand with silicone implants and realigned her tendons. (:07)

"You remove this part of the joint…and realign the bone," said Melone. "Then, you replace the joint."

The difference after surgery, is remarkable. After five months of therapy including using a hand out-rigger, Russo's back in the gym.

"No pain, and I'm back to writing again," said Russo.

Melone estimates that the silicone knuckles should least for at least 15 years.

Research Summary:
Knuckle knockout! Rebuilding arthritic fingers
Background: Juvenile arthritis is a disease that targets thousands of children in the United States. It's often a crippling pain that can prevent mobility by the time children reach adulthood, causing them to be unable to move their knees, shoulders, and hands.

Causes: It is not known exactly what causes juvenile arthritis in children, but research has indicated that it is an autoimmune disease. In autoimmune diseases, white blood cells lose the ability to tell the difference between the body's own healthy cells and harmful invaders such as bacteria and viruses. This causes the immune system to release chemicals that can damage healthy tissues, causing inflammation and pain.

Spotting Juvenile Arthritis: In order to effectively manage and minimize the effects of arthritis, an early diagnosis is critical. By understanding the symptoms and characteristics of juvenile arthritis, children can maintain productive lifestyles. Early signs of arthritis can be subtle including limping or sore wrists, fingers, or knees. Joints may suddenly become inflamed and remain enlarged. Stiffness in joints located in the neck and hips may also occur as well as the sudden appearance and disappearance of rashes on the body. In many cases, juvenile arthritis can be treated with a combination of medicine, physical therapy, and exercise. In specific situations, children may also require specific injections into the joints or surgery. The goals of treatment are to relieve pain and inflammation, slow down or prevent the destruction of joints, and restore use and functionality of joints.

One Patient's Story: Ginamarie Russo suffered from juvenile arthritis. At just 12 years old, she began feeling constant shooting pain in her wrist before it completely took over her hand, making it nonfunctional. Charles Melone, M.D., an orthopedic hand surgeon at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, replaced four of the knuckles in Ginamarie's right hand with silicone implants and realigned her tendons. This surgery, followed by five months of physical therapy, has allowed Ginamarie to regain function in her hand and go back to doing the things she loves.

For more information, please contact:
*Joanne H. Nicholas
Director, Public Affairs
Continuum Health Partners
(212) 523-7772

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