UM/Jackson Doctors Perform World’s First Nerve Graft Using Patient’s Own Cells

Danielle Press suffered life-threatening injuries in a boating accident off the coast of Key Biscayne in September of 2013. She was rushed to Ryder Trauma Center at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center with several deep, lacerating injuries to her upper leg. Trauma surgeons immediately operated on Danielle, who lost a lot of blood and nearly died. 

Doctors discovered that the sciatic nerve in her left leg, which controls the majority of movement and sensation, had been cut and separated. Danielle, a college graduate who has traveled throughout Asia teaching English, was told that she may never regain any feeling or movement in her leg as a result of the injury. Repairing the sciatic nerve – the largest nerve in the human body – presents one of the most difficult challenges in nerve surgery, particularly when a significant gap exists, as was the case with Danielle.

Dr. Allan Levi, a UM/Jackson neurosurgeon, considered traditional nerve grafting, but felt that Danielle may have a better outcome with alternative treatment options, such as using her own Schwann cells expanded in number using cell culture techniques. Schwann cells are involved in many important aspects of peripheral nerve biology, including the transmission of nervous impulses along axons (nerve fibers), nerve development and regeneration. Dr. Levi and his team are leading a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – approved Phase 1 clinical trial as part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Miami Project to Cure Paralysis using a patient’s own Schwann cells for acute spinal cord injuries. Pre-clinical work suggested that the use of Schwann cells could also be beneficial in Danielle’s unique case.

Dr. Levi obtained approval from the FDA for this procedure to combine standard nerve grafting with autologous human Schwann cells, with a goal of providing Danielle with an opportunity to maximize nerve regeneration and restoration of function.  Exactly one month after the boating accident, Dr. Levi performed a nerve graft on Danielle at Jackson Memorial Hospital, using a combination of her own nerve and her own Schwann cells. The procedure was the first of its kind in the world. 

Did you experience a Jackson miracle? Email your story to or share your #myjacksonmiracle on social media.