Matt Potter 6:30 a.m., March 29
UCSD Students Treat Haitian Earthquake Victims With Phantom Limb Pain
In 2011, a group of students from UCSD traveled to Haiti as part of the Clinton Global Initiative to treat some of the thousands of residents who experience phantom limb pain from amputations that followed the 2010 earthquake that decimated the country.
They treated the amputees using "mirror-boxes," a technique developed by V.S. Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at UCSD. The boxes show victims a reflection of their good limb superimposed over their missing limb. The image allows the patient to think they can reposition the limb, relieving the painful sensation.
"[The therapy]] was based on an idea that there's a complete map of the body's surface on the surface of the brain," Ramachandran said during a February 14 interview on NPR's Fresh Air. "Every point on the body's surface has a corresponding point in the brain."
According to research conducted by Ramachandran in 1995, the treatment reduced phantom pain in 89 percent of test subjects.
“It sounded crazy to go to Haiti with friends and bring a bunch of mirrors,” stated Elizabeth Sheckel in a UCSD news article. Sheckel was one of five students who traveled to Haiti last year.
“We were able to see many patients with phantom limb pain during our two-week stay. All of them had immediate pain relief with the mirror-box therapy and were incredibly appreciative."
The students showed amputees the technique and left behind 200 mirrors and prosthetics to help additional victims.
Seckel and fellow students Claude Miller, Brittany Lyng, Lina Delbruck, and Nicole de Faymoreau will return to Haiti in June. They also plan to treat amputees in Vietnam and Cambodia in September.
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