Presented at the Academic Surgical Congress 2018| Volume 165, ISSUE 2, P365-372, February 2019

The golden year: How functional recovery sets the stage for tendon transfer surgery among patients with tetraplegia—a qualitative analysis

Published:August 30, 2018DOI:



      Tendon transfer surgery can effectively improve hand function for patients with tetraplegia but remains poorly utilized. Little is known regarding how patients’ rehabilitation experiences influence their perception of function, identity, and coping to shape their reconstructive context.


      We performed a cross-sectional qualitative analysis of 19 participants with C4–C7 cervical spinal injuries: 9 patients had undergone reconstruction; 10 had not. Semistructured interviews were conducted using an interview guide focusing on rehabilitation experience, the relationship between function and identity, and how patient experience evolved. Interview transcripts were analyzed using grounded theory.


      The study sample was predominantly male (79%), white (89%), and American Spinal Injury Association grades A–D (grade A: 42%; grade B: 32%; grade C: 16%; grade D: 10%). Recognizing rehabilitation's necessity, functional gains, and constructive patient–therapist relationships promoted engagement in therapy. Poor insurance coverage and financial constraints decreased rehabilitation access. Function affected identity through the degree to which it tied participants to a “patient” role. Early in recovery, patients’ function, roles, and attitudes were fluid but solidified over time; how satisfied patients were with these final positions influenced how they coped.


      The balance of patients’ positive and negative coping has been found to influence patients’ progression to surgery. This study describes how function and identity contribute to coping. Participants’ function and identity evolved during a finite period we call “the golden year,” before reaching a fixed point around which they built their lives. The norms patients establish during this time may affect receptiveness to surgery.
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