Nerve treatment helps NJ vet walk

Edward Bonfiglio

March 1, 2013 2:42:56 PM PST
When Edward Bonfiglio walks around his old Runnemede, New Jersey neighborhood, he realizes how lucky he is.

That's because walking nearly became a thing of the past.

Three years ago, the Navy vet came under fire in Afghanistan and was shot in the leg.

"It came in high in my inner left thigh and then out high on the left side of my thigh," Edward recalled. "I wasn't able to move it at all."

The bullet severed the left branch of his sciatic nerve. Once he returned to the United States, doctors at Bethesda Naval Hospital told him it was an injury with few options.

While one option was amputation, his surgeon decided on another approach: using a modified nerve from a cadaver.

Dr. John Taras of the Philadelphia Hand Center said that nerve acts like a bridge, and Edward's own nerves will grow across.

Dr. Taras said he's used these types of grafts about 70 times over the past few years, adding about half his patients returning to normal.

"We had no rejection problems," Dr. Taras said.

Edward says with time and physical therapy, his sciatic nerve began to work again.

"I saw my foot actually moving, and I was so surprised at that," he said. "I can somewhat run now with my leg. I can't do a great run, but it's better than nothing!"

Edward is now in college, studying exercise physiology. He hasn't decided between becoming a physical therapist or a physician's assistant, but says either way, he'll feel a special empathy for what his patients are going through.