Dr. Susan Mackinnon, winner of an Elfen Works Award (EWA), is a plastic surgeon whose pioneering work in nerve transfer surgery is restoring movement to limbs that many doctors believe to be permanently paralyzed. The first female president in the 86 year history of the American Association of Plastic Surgeons, she specializes in nerve transplantation, peripheral nerve surgery, and plastic and reconstructive surgery. If you ask her patients, they’ll tell you she specializes in restoring hope.

We highlighted her in Tracks of Hope, asking, rhetorically, whether one person can make a difference…. Yes! Of course they can! Dr. Mackinnon made all the difference in the world to two people close to us, and you can learn the story in the documentary film, A Spark of Nerve.  It benefits all of us when the decision is made to restore functionality, to get people back to living and working without disability. Yet even with huge advances in knowledge, best practices are not always applied. There are many reasons for this. Too few doctors have been taught the techniques to perform such nerve surgery, and not enough people know of its existence. Sometimes, immediate cost considerations can overshadow the long-term benefits. Sadly, limbs are often amputated rather than saved. By perfecting these techniques, restoring functionality and hope, and empowering other doctors to do the same, Dr. Mackinnon is doing her part to change the way things are. 

Dr. MacKinnon is Chief of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and Shoenberg Professor of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in the Department of Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine. Her team’s pioneering, innovative work show us how best practices in health care make a lifelong difference, rippling out through many lives.