Restoring what's lost
Meet The Makers: Karen Zaderej
Published: Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:56 p.m.
When Edward Bonfiglio was on Marine patrol in Afghanistan five years ago, his unit was targeted by a round of small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. He took a hit to the lower left leg, which severed his sciatic nerve, causing him to lose sensation and function in his leg below the knee.
Back in the United States, his physicians gave him two options: amputate the leg below the knee or undergo surgery to regrow the severed nerve using a new technology developed by AxoGen, a startup biotech firm headquartered in Alachua.
Determined to keep his leg, Bonfiglio chose the latter treatment, even though it involved a longer recovery time. Now, after several years and hundreds of hours of physical therapy, Bonfiglio is walking — and sometimes even jogging — without the use of a wheelchair, and he has regained most of the use of his leg.
Bonfiglio is one of hundreds of patients whose successful recoveries from peripheral nerve injuries can be attributed to AxoGen products.
Karen Zaderej, CEO of AxoGen, says each year, some 1.3 million people in the United States suffer traumatic peripheral nerve injuries, resulting in pain, loss of muscle or organ function and other complications.
“Nerves are the wires of the body,” Zaderej says. “They connect to the brain to allow you to have sensation and movement.” When a peripheral nerve is damaged in some way, either through surgery or trauma, “just like a wire, if the wire is cut, it doesn't carry the signal,” she says.