In this season of giving and receiving, one local man is not only grateful to be alive, but due to the gift of a tissue donation, he’s living pain-free and was honored by Donate Life as part of their Rose Parade Celebration in Pasadena, California.
Savannah’s Chris Brown, as well as his wife, Keli, was a 2022 Donate Life float rider to help raise awareness of the life-changing impact of tissue donation. Something Chris knows about all too well.
On March 15, 2019, Chris Brown was helping out with an issue at the pulp mill where he worked.
“I was two stories up in the air when my hand got caught,” he explained. “It literally ripped my arm off.”
Miraculously, Brown was able to climb down from the machinery and get assistance from his co-workers before being rushed to the hospital. Despite losing his arm, Brown is grateful to be alive and still around for his four children.
Through surgery and rehabilitation, Brown kept a positive attitude to cover his suffering.
“A few months after my injury, I had relentless chronic pain,” he said. “The pain was constant and often so intense it felt like lightning bolts shooting through my amputated arm. I was unable to work, sleep, or even function, pretty much daily in my life.”
He explained how pain medication did little to help and instead caused unbearable side effects.
“I went through a plethora of medications to battle the pain. I think we tried everything… some serious pain medication. It didn’t help much at all,” he said.
Brown’s Workers’ Compensation case manager knew of his discomfort and informed him about surgery for nerve reconstruction. It was then that Chris was referred to local orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Greg Kolovich, who specializes in nerve pain.
“He told me that nerves leftover and/or injured from my amputation were the cause of my pain. He recommended surgical nerve repair,” Brown said. “The tissue for the graft comes from a tissue donation from a donor.”
The procedure surgically removes masses of scar tissue within the nerve and then reconstructs and reconnects the nerves of the donated tissue through a process called nerve allograft – which bridges the nerve gaps to potentially restore normal signals to the brain, according to Dr. Kolovich of Optim Orthopaedics.
“When Chris had his accident and lost his arm, the nerves to his arm were cut leaving them a bit like a live, ungrounded electrical wire,” Dr. Kolovich said. “Unfortunately, the pain Chris experienced can be common after an amputation because of the nerve damage that occurs. Pain may be felt at the amputation site or experienced as phantom limb pain, where the damaged nerves send pain signals to the brain, making it think the limb is still intact. In Chris’s case, neuromas—tangled masses of nerve fibers and scar tissue formed at the end of his cut nerves—were causing his pain.”
“The procedure sort of gave my remaining nerves a job to do again,” Brown added. “As the doctor said, that live wire needs to be grounded. So, when it’s connected back, it no longer causes pain when it fires off.”
Dr. Kolovich stated the goal of surgical nerve repair is to identify and fix the source of pain.
“I reconstructed each nerve by connecting them to uninjured nerves located in muscles within Chris’s chest. Given the severity and location of his injury, each nerve reconstruction involved large gaps that needed to be bridged,” the doctor said.
That bridge was made possible because of a donor’s gift of human nerve tissue (Avance Nerve Graft), which allowed Brown’s nerves to regenerate and restore more normal signals to his brain.
“All I can say is… ‘Wow!’” Brown said with a laugh. “It’s a pretty new procedure and I am so fortunate to have the support structure that I do. I appreciated that my doctor was honest upfront about how the surgery could make a difference and it certainly did. It got me out of pain.”
Now, Brown is living pain-free, spending time with his family, and is back to work—all because of the gift of life through a tissue donation.
“I want to do everything I can to get the word out,” Brown said. “There are other people like me who are in so much pain. If I can help let others know about tissue donation and the nerve graft, other families can have the chance to heal as mine has.”
There are many living with chronic neuropathic pain. For these patients, Dr. Kolovich wants them to know there is hope.
“Advances in nerve repair surgery can potentially end your neuropathic pain and give you back your life. Chris is certainly living proof and he is one of many.”
According to Donate Life America, tissue from one donor can help heal the lives of up to 75 patients.
“I know how fortunate I am and I am eager to do my part to get information out there about becoming an organ and tissue donor. We have it in our power to make this important decision to give the gift of life,” Brown said.
Brown and his entire family received an all-expense-paid trip to the Rose Bowl where they participated in the Tournament of Roses Parade on the Donate Life float.
“My wife and kids have been great through all of this,” Chris said, a bit emotionally. “This trip is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all of us. A true blessing.”
“I have a wonderful support system,” he continued. “It has been tough on everyone. There’s shock, of course, but there’s also the understanding that Daddy is hurt and his arm is missing. It takes a long time to get back to normal life again, but we’re trying. We’re having so much fun as a family that my arm is almost an afterthought.”
“I’m just grateful for it all,” Brown concluded. “My accident could have gone in a totally different direction. I would rather have my life. Especially throughout all the holidays. We’re all so grateful for the opportunity and I hope folks can take a positive message out of my experiences and journey.”
“People can literally change each other’s lives.”
For more information on how to become a tissue donor, visit donatelife.net