AKRON, Ohio —
It is likely most have never heard of Dupuytren’s disease and can neither spell it nor pronounce it. But for those suffering from the hand disease, such simple tasks turning a doorknob, brushing teeth or even shaking someone’s hand can be difficult, painful and sometimes impossible.
But a plastic surgeon who is from Ashland has become one of the first physicians in the midwest to be certified to treat Dupuytren’s without surgery. Instead of performing hand surgery to clean up the collagen that has built up in the palm of the hand and tightened to form cords that cause the fingers to end in toward the hand, Dr. Gary A. Pennington, a 1977 graduate of Paul G. Blazer High School in Ashland, now treats the disease with Xiaflex injections. The injections are the only FDA-approved non-surgical treatment proven to work in adults with Dupuytren’s.
Pennington, who received his medical training at the University of Kentucky, has been treating patients with Dupuytren’s with shots instead of surgery since early this year, and the shots have been effective in every instance. Often the improvements are immediate and only one shot is needed are each area affected by the disease, he said..
“Generally, each finger takes one injection,” said Pennington, who is associated with Crystal Plastic Surgeons in Akron. “Xiaflex is a purified enzyme that dissolves collagen. The next day the patient comes back and I manipulate the digit to break the cord.”
In most cases that is all that is needed to produce a straightened finger with a full range of motion. For about a month, the hand is put in a splint at night for protection.
The entire procedure takes place in his office without general anesthesia, said Pennington, the son of Carl and Stella Pennington, long-time Ashland residents who now live in Flatwoods.
While Pennington was the first physician in the Akron area to be certified to treat Dupuytren’s with injections, the procedures is becoming more and more common because it is less invasive and just as effective as surgery, Pennington said.
Dupuytren’s disease is also known as Viking’s disease because it is most common in people of northern European descent. Although it can strike people of all ages it is most common among men who are older than 60. The International Dupuytren Society estimate that it can occur in some form in as many as one in four senior citizens. However, among the general population, only about 3 percent have the disease.
Surgery has been an effective treatment for Dupuytren’s disease for decades, but Pennington is convinced are now the preferable treatment. That’s why has put down his scapel for a needle in helping patients restore the use of their hands.
After receiving a medical degree from UK, Pennington became involved with hand surgery and plastic surgery. He received fellowship training in hand and micro-vascular surgery at the Christine M. Kleinert Institute for Hand and Microsurgery at the University of Louisville in 1993. He is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgeons.
JOHN CANNON can be reached at email@example.com or at (606) 326-2649.