Offering hands of hope

Electra Van Item

For years, Electra Van Item endured the constant pain of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the lining of the joints, causing swelling that eventually can result in bone erosion and joint deformity.

Along with the pain, her fingers became grossly misshapen over time, and she found it increasingly difficult to perform simple tasks such as driving a car. People on the street would make comments about her hands or simply stare.

Eventually, the damage RA wreaked on her hands made if it difficult for Van Item to control a pencil. Her job as a graphic artist suffered and she no longer could pursue her hobby of painting.

Then she met Bobby Wroten, MD, a hand surgeon for UNT Health Science Center.

“When I first met him, he immediately put me at ease and gave me hope,” Van Item said. “He explained what he could do to help my fingers and made me feel comfortable about the procedure.”

Dr. Wroten said, “I explained the reconstructive procedure that has been used by hand surgeons for many years and in the right patient can give excellent

He said the procedure involves removing a portion of the knuckle in each finger so that the fingers can be realigned. Then a silastic implant is inserted to act as a hinge so that the fingers can both bend and straighten to allow improved use. Following surgery, the patient undergoes several weeks of therapy directed by a Certified Hand Therapist.

Dr. Wroten, Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, operated first on her left hand, and then on her right several months later.

Van Item said her fingers look and feel much better now, and she expresses gratitude to Dr. Wroten, who recently was awarded the Gold-Headed Cane, the highest recognition given to physicians by the Tarrant County Medical Society.

“From the beginning, I referred to Dr. Wroten as a ‘rock star,'” Van Item said, “and he certainly fulfills that nickname every day.”

Van Item’s RA is now in remission, and she’s able to enjoy her hobbies again.

“Going through that painful period helped me find myself as a person and also helped me gain empathy for others,” she said.

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