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First-Of-Its-Kind Local Surgery Performed At PMMC

Drs. John Lignelli (left) and Paul Smith

POTTSTOWN PA – In what was characterized Wednesday (March 9, 2011) as “ground-breaking,” first-of-its-kind surgery at Pottstown Memorial Medical Center, two local physicians led and successfully completed a three-hour procedure to replace the jaw of a woman in her 50s who suffered from a condition known as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.

Pottstown surgeons John Lignelli II and Paul Smith “recently” performed the operation on their patient, who began experiencing jaw pain during 2003. The announcement from the hospital, 1600 E. High St., Pottstown PA, did not provide a specific date. The patient reportedly has already made a full recovery and has normal use of her jaw.

Spokeswoman Helen Guardiani said the procedure “was the first such operation” performed at PMMC, and added Pottstown’s was “the only suburban hospital to offer this procedure outside of the major inner-city university medical centers.” It now plans to offer the surgery to others as needed.

“The jaw functions like any other joint. It has bones, cartilage and tendons; it can get tired and sore, and you can sprain the jaw muscles,” Lignelli said. His patient’s problem started “because her TMJ (temporomandibular) joint wasn’t aligned properly, which put too much stress on it. Over time,” he explained, “the cartilage in her jaws simply wore out,” making replacement necessary.

For this replacement, the surgeons said they used a titanium prosthesis custom-made to fit the patient.

Jaw-replacement surgery is done only if other treatments don’t work, Lignelli cautioned. “We have a whole arsenal of options available to us, including arthroscopic surgery. If a person is having constant pain and it’s affecting their productivity, lifestyle and food choices, it’s time to consider medical treatment.”

After surgery, patients generally have normal use of their jaw, and encounter significantly less or no pain. They also have far fewer restrictions on the types of food they can eat. Most patients return home within a day or two, and start a rehab program of simple exercises in which they open their mouth wider every day, according to Guardiani. In most cases, she reported, they’re back to work in two weeks.

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