Matt Ware

"Rare surgery may give teen working hand"

June 2000 - Indianapolis Star article - Abe Aamidor

Device would restore function lost to paralyzing injury suffered in a basketball practice two years ago.

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He never made a jump shot again, never grabbed another rebound - not since that awful day in February 1998 when Matt Ware slid into a wall while chasing a loose basketball during practice at Heritage Christian School.

The impact and resulting spinal injury left Ware, then a sophomore, paralyzed below the shoulders. The former athlete now uses an electric wheelchair to scoot around. Today, however, Ware undergoes a rare surgical procedure that will, if successful, restore partial use of his right hand for the first time since the accident.

The operation, called a functional electrical stimulation prosthesis implant, will be performed for the first time in Indianapolis. For Ware, the operation's potential to let him grasp a cup again is not a game-winning three-point play in closing seconds, but it will be its own victory. "It'll give me a lot more freedom and independence," he said Monday.

Ware, now 18, spent nearly two months after his injury in various hospitals, recuperating and receiving physical therapy. He has limited mobility in his arms, but no coordinated movement in his hands.

The surgery, scheduled for 8 a.m. at St. Vincent Hospital, will be led by Dr. Hill Hastings. It consists of two parts - a tendon transfer that will improve Matt's upper arm movement, and the implant - a procedure approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration in 1997.

In essence, the operation involves implanting a receiver-transmitter unit - similar to a heart pacemaker - inside Matt's chest. The device delivers signals to electrodes that are implanted in eight different muscles to provide for grasp, pinch and release, Hastings said. Matt's arm will be immobilized for three weeks after the surgery, but within 12 weeks he should be able to hold a pen or a spoon, or open a door with a key.

Though his basketball-playing days are over, Ware remains an avid sports fan.

He might be in a hospital room Wednesday night recuperating from his surgery, but he has made it known that he'll be watching the Indiana Pacers play the Los Angeles Lakers in the opening game of the NBA Championships on television. "The Pacers have a very good chance," said Matt, who hopes to study computer software design at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis beginning in the fall, but whose dream job would be calling pro basketball games at courtside every night.

"I know we can beat the Lakers because both Kobe (Bryant) and Shaq (Shaquille O'Neal) can be stopped, as the Blazers showed."

Matt graduated with his class in May, in part with the help of a computer equipped with the voice-recognition software so he could dictate all his papers.

Matt's father the Rev. A. Charles Ware, president of Baptist Bible College of Indianapolis, gave the commencement address. "The audience just went wild and gave him a standing ovation for a minute or two and my class also stood," Matt said. "It was really special to see."

While completing school, though, Matt had to eat lunch in the gym where he had practiced and played basketball every day. "I can look at the spot where I hit the wall," he said. "It doesn't bother me. I know some people can develop some problems, but it's never bothered me."

Matt's mother, Sharon, says her son's physical fitness before the injury and prayerful friends have helped the entire family cope with their ordeal. The injury "changed all of our lives a lot," he said. "Just daily routines of life - we're all required to help Matt at times. As a family, it's brought us all closer together."

The surgery should take six to seven hours, Hastings said. He said the probability of a successful outcome is very high.

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