Clinical trial eliminates firefighter's 'phantom limb' pain

Capt. Gene Hull, 53, underwent surgery to amputate his right arm after being diagnosed with cancer in the tissue around his collarbone

ATLANTA — A firefighter diagnosed with cancer in the tissue around his right collarbone nine years ago still feels pain after undergoing surgery to amputate his right arm.

FOX 5 Atlanta reported that Capt. Gene Hull, 53, with the Columbus (Ga.) Fire Department, knows his arm is gone but his brain doesn't.

"I feel my arm constantly," Hull said. “Like, I feel it right now. I talked to my doctor. And I told him I had the sensation my arm was still there."

Dr. David Prologo, an interventional radiologist with Emory University, said the medical term is "phantom limb syndrome."

"Every so often I would get real sharp electrical jabs that would emanate from my fingers and would run up to where my shoulder used to be," Hull said. "The best way I can describe the pain is that if you take a wire and run it between your ring and your middle finger, all the way up to your elbow, and just shoot it with electricity."

Dr. Prologo thinks he may have found a way to stop phantom limb pain after a clinical trial to test the cryoablation therapy, which uses cold to freeze and destroy the severed nerves causing the pain.

Hull had the procedure six months ago and about 95 percent of his scar tissue is gone as well as his pain.

"I feel great now," he said. "I still get a little bit of a twinge now and then but it's nothing compared to what it was. It's one of those things, you know: why haven't they thought of this earlier?" 

Dr. Prologo said the potential is huge for military veterans who've lost a limb in combat. He's applying for a DOD grant that would fund a clinical trial to test cryoablation in treating military amputees with phantom limb pain.

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