On March 10, 2011, in the first operation of its kind in the region, Puerto Vallarta Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Luis Villanueva of CMQ Premier hospital successfully performed an procedure to implant a prosthetic elbow. The patient, Canadian Joseph Pilon, was suffering from a condition called a “fused elbow”, and had not had any mobility since 2006.
After exhausting medical alternatives in his home country, on the advice of a friend, Pilon contacted Dr. Villanueva earlier this year to discuss treatments for his fused elbow, the result of injuries sustained in a 2006 car accident and the follow-up surgeries.
Surgical elbow fusion is a procedure that permanently stabilizes the elbow after severe trauma, resulting in total loss of mobility. The intention is to eliminate pain by forcing the joint to grow together, fusing into one bone. In Pilon’s case, however, there was nerve damage in the course of the surgery.”
“I was in agony for three years,” Pilon said in an interview with PV Pulse. “I thought I was going to go insane.”
His quest for a medical answer led him to research facilities in Thailand, Paris, Tahiti and the Mayo Clinic, but his alternatives were few and the price tag was steep. “The Mayo Clinic said they’d treat me,” Pilon said, “but it was going to cost $52,000.”
When a friend suggested he look to Mexico, at first he was skeptical. “Mexico has a reputation… but then I talked to doctor Luis [Villanueva]. He was very gentle, I had a really good feeling that he would be honest and he would not compromise anything.”
Even better, the operation would only cost Pilon $15,000. At the first consultation, his initial reservations disappeared. “To see the doctor here was very easy. Fast, efficient.”
When the doctor examined Pilon’s arm, he discovered the source of his pain: there was damage to the cubital nerve. “[Pilon] had two fractures: one on his shoulder and one on his elbow,” Dr. Villanueva confirmed. “ The shoulder was never treated, but the elbow had had several operations. Eventually his elbow had been fused in the last operation causing an injury to the cubital nerve.”
Pilon wanted to relieve the pain he’d lived with for nearly four years, but he also wanted his mobility back. “[Pilon’s] arm had 10-20 % mobility, and his elbow had 0%,” Villanueva reported. “He needed a prosthetic elbow.”
Villanueva had the implant flown in from Mexico City, and then in a three hour operation, he re-broke Pilon’s elbow and implanted the prosthetic. When Pilon was released from the hospital just two days later, his arm was swollen and sore, but he could flex 45 degrees and extend it a 160 degrees.
“It makes me so happy,” Pilon said. “In a couple of months I will be able to put it up and wash my hair. This is like a miracle.”
Villanueva confirms the surgery’s success. “He will be able to eat, comb his hair, bathe, drive. His elbow will have 90-95% of its function.” Pilon’s next steps include tending to the shoulder fracture, and repairing the damaged nerve.