Editor's note: This story and video first appeared on Oct. 27, 2014.
Although Connor Woodle has a genetic disorder that resulted in him being born without thumbs, the boy now has all the dexterity he needs thanks to Dr. Bobby Chhabra, co-founder of the University of Virginia Hand Center, who created thumbs for Connor over the course of two operations.
“I can’t tell you how amazing it is to be watching Connor do even the simplest things,” said his dad, Jason Woodle. “A fanatic about Cheerios, Connor can pick them up between his new thumb and forefinger with the best of them.”
Two weeks after Connor was born, Jason and his wife, Joan, made their first visit to the U.Va. Hand Center. “I can’t tell you how reassuring it was for two new, very scared parents to meet someone like Dr. Chhabra, who had actually helped children like Connor before,” Jason Woodle said. “For us, having someone in Charlottesville with this kind of expertise was a godsend.”
The formal name for the procedure Chhabra performed is digit pollicization. An extremely complex procedure, it entails detaching the index finger with its nerves and blood vessels, rotating and repositioning it to the position of a normal thumb and attaching the muscles and tendons to provide proper function. It is best done between the ages of 1 and 2 so that the child’s brain maps the new digit as a thumb rather than a displaced index finger.
“In my view, pollicization is one of the most gratifying operations you can ever do,” said Chhabra, who chairs U.Va.’s Department of Orthopedic Surgery. “In fact, it’s one of the main reasons I went into hand surgery. It can improve a child’s quality of life dramatically.”
Chhabra came to U.Va. in 2002 to help create a Hand Center capable of performing sophisticated procedures for congenital hand differences, while also treating the full spectrum of disorders, from carpal tunnel syndrome to arthritis to complex fractures.
“Over the last decade, we’ve built a center that’s the equal of some of the best in the nation, with an expert, multidisciplinary team and wonderful facilities,” he said. “Our goal is to provide the most comprehensive scope of care in a single location. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
The Woodles are certainly appreciative of all that Chhabra and the U.Va. Hand Center team has done for them – and so, in his way, is Connor. “Connor doesn’t let many people pick him up and put him on their laps, but Connor really trusts Dr. Chhabra,” Jason Woodle said. “And so do we.”
- By Charlie Feigenoff