Since the inception of the Curtis National Hand Center in 1975, people all over the world have placed their hands in ours.
Our hand surgeons and fellows are among the elite in their specialty. Using their advanced skills and training, they can repair the most complex, traumatic injuries, correct congenital differences, and treat numerous conditions of the hand and upper extremity. Our goal is to restore each patient’s use of their hand, wrist, arm, elbow and shoulder to the greatest degree possible and improve their quality of life.
The Curtis National Hand Center is renowned as the largest, most experienced hand center in the U.S. In fact, the Center was designated by Congress in 1994 as the National Center for the Treatment of the Hand and Upper Extremity. Patients and doctors alike flock to the center for unparalleled care and training.
A hand surgeon is a board-certified orthopedic, plastic or general surgeon who has received additional specialty training in treatment of the hand, wrist and upper extremity (arm, elbow and shoulder). Hand surgeons are trained to diagnose and treat all problems related to the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, nerves, skin, and blood vessels in the hand, wrist, arm, elbow and shoulder.
Common hand and upper extremity problems treated include:
- Tendonitis and bursitis
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- DeQuervain’s tendonitis
- Dupuytren’s contracture
- Trigger finger
- Ganglion cysts
- Flexor tendon and extensor tendon injuries
- Tennis elbow
- Golfer’s elbow
- Rotator cuff tears
- Shoulder impingement
- Shoulder instability
- Separated and dislocated shoulder
- Sprains and strains
- Sports and overuse injuries
The specialists of Curtis National Hand Center are all members of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH). They provide the training of residents and fellows from many institutions in the region, including Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University, Walter Reed Army Medical Center and MedStar Union Memorial Hospital. This group has also contributed to numerous original articles, chapters and books throughout the world.
Hand therapy is a type of specialized rehabilitation for patients with hand and upper extremity injuries and conditions. It may be performed by a physical therapist (PT), occupational therapist (OT) or a certified hand therapist (CHT). A CHT is a PT or OT who has a minimum of five years of clinical experience and direct practice in hand therapy. CHTs must also pass a comprehensive test of advanced clinical skills.
Hand therapy involves comprehensive and individualized evaluation and treatment, including:
- Management of acute or chronic pain
- Preventative, non-operative or conservative treatment
- Post-operative rehabilitation
- Therapeutic exercise
- Desensitization following nerve injury or trauma
- Sensory re-education after nerve injury
- Design and implementation of home exercise programs to increase motion, dexterity and/or strength
- Fabricating splints for preventing or correcting an injury
- Teaching patients how to perform daily and work activities
- Conditioning prior to returning to work
- Training in the use of prosthetics
- Wound and scar management
Hand therapists often work with patients who have suffered an accident or trauma that resulted in wounds, scars, burns, injured tendons or nerves, fractures, or even amputations of the fingers, hands, or arms. Others include patients who have undergone surgery of the hand or upper extremity, those who are affected by conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow, and those who suffer from such chronic problems such as arthritis or a neurologic condition.
Hand therapy professionals are dedicated to helping patients maximize their function and return to a productive lifestyle.
The programs and facilities of the Curtis National Hand Center benefit tremendously from the generosity of donors, including patients whose lives were changed as a result of the extraordinary care they received at the Center. Learn how you can get involved and support our mission.
In 1955, Dr. Raymond Curtis treated his first patient with a congenital defect of the hand – a 9-year-old boy born with no fingers on his left hand. Dr. Curtis was able to construct two fingers on the boy’s hand, which vastly improved his quality of life and changed his life forever. In 2010, Alan Lamborn recounted his compelling story at a Hand Center event, highlighting the impact Dr. Curtis had on his life and how today’s Hand Center surgeons carry on the legacy of Dr. Curtis.
- Read Alan's story.
Hi. My name is Alan Lamborn. In the summer of 1955, Dr. Curtis built – with very little raw material to work with – two small fingers on my left hand. Decades after the surgery, in January 1991, I wrote him a letter of thanks. Now, still many more years later, excerpts from that letter were used to open the video we just saw.
My wife and I have flown in from Colorado to be with you tonight for reasons that are as simple as they are serendipitous. Let’s start with the serendipity.
Eleven days ago I came to Union Memorial to have the doctors at the Hand Center take a close look at one of Dr. Curtis’s earliest inventions with 55 years of mileage on the clock. I was impressed not only by the facilities and the doctors’ skill level, but also by the very strong sense that somehow this institution had inherited not simply Dr. Curtis’s skill and ingenuity, but also his compassion and elemental humanity.
So, deeply content – and with a clean bill of health after the docs had kicked the tires on my Model T – I was packing to fly back when the phone rang. The folks preparing the video for tonight’s event had just discovered that the author of the letter they were using was not only alive and well, but had actually just flown in for a check-up. “There is an event coming up for the Hand Center in which we are using excerpts from your letter,” I was told. “Perhaps you would like to come back.”
I hesitated, for one of Dr. Curtis’s contributions to my life is that I seldom think, much less talk about my hand; I had been liberated to simply live life. But within a few minutes I knew there was only one possible answer. I needed to come; I needed to come to stress the importance of remembering his compassion and humanity along with his genius.
My parents took me to see Dr. Curtis about 58 years ago. I was Dr. Curtis’s first patient who was in for a congenital defect. I think about that meeting and my young parents. The baby book my mother kept has an entry that stopped me cold when I read it after my first child was born: “Alan asked today when his fingers would start to grow.” There is no entry describing their answer. I like to think that in Dr. Curtis they found their master gardener.
It was not, however, going to be easy. All Dr. Curtis had to work with was five small lumps. Only the thumb had any joints, and the joint at the base that would allow it to move was almost an inch and a half under the surface. Buried next to the thumb’s base, nestled far too close for the thumb to move or grasp even the smallest objects, lay a small index finger.
Dr. Curtis counseled waiting until the structure of the hand was more stable and fully developed. Three years passed. Then he took what he had learned from the war and industrial injuries he had treated, from the research he and others had conducted, to do what could only be described as experimental surgery. The index finger was removed to free the thumb and provide enough bone to turn the middle finger into one larger stationary finger. That finger was then levered with metal pins to move it closer to the thumb, and the thumb was liberated to move and grasp items against the stationary finger. The opening is only just over an inch long on each side, but it transformed how I was able to lead my life. It matters to be able to tie your shoes by yourself, to cut your own food, to . . . . well – you get the picture – the list is virtually endless.
I mention these details partly to give you a sense of his skill, partly to emphasize the importance of research, and partly for you to understand more fully what he had to do as a human being to reassure his young patient.
There was going to be a lot of cutting and rearranging. I turned 9 about the time of the surgery. I do not know how he did it, whether it was by instinct, design, or simple decency. He made me unafraid. Even as I was the center of all this medical attention, he made me feel – in an important and utterly foundational way – that I was a normal kid. And that I would be all right.
I cannot remember how many meetings we had over the three years before the surgery. I do have etched in my memory what I believe must have been the last consultation before the surgery took place. I went to an office in a row house. Something in the air told me that this trip was about big, important stuff that involved me. There must have been conversations about what we were deciding that day, but I don’t remember them. What I do remember is sitting in the waiting room with a growing, almost dream-like awareness that, even though I couldn’t immediately place why or when, I had been there before. Then, as we walked from the waiting room to Dr. Curtis’s office, I saw more and more things that looked familiar. We turned the corner and, suddenly, there were the extraordinary paintings of the hands. All the tension went out of me. I knew this place, and it was safe. Dr. Curtis stood up and his face came into clear focus as he walked forward to greet us. That closed the deal: I recognized this man and he was kind. Then it was all the adults going on about the hand, my hand, and I recognized something else. This man knew what he was doing. It was not just kindness in the air, it was competence. Safety took on a whole new level of meaning.
I don’t know how an adult communicates all those things to a child. He did.
In my many check-ups after the surgery, it was the same. In the first months and years, 4 to 6 doctors were often in tow. I gathered I was newsworthy. But it was all still within a zone of safety and kindness. How did he let me know – with six doctors standing around staring at my hand and shooting questions back and forth – that I was safe, that everything, and most importantly me, was OK?
I last saw Dr. Curtis about 8 years after the surgery. The final appointment – scheduled 3 or 4 years before – was the valedictory. One last examination to make sure everything was performing as designed. It was. We shook hands, and he wished me well on my life’s journey.
I wish now that I had given him a hug. How could I have owed a person so much, how could I been warmed and protected by his humanity for Eleven years, and not hugged him good-bye? I guess it went with being 17 and not knowing any better.
Well, I know better now. So I come here to thank the staff and doctors at the Curtis National Hand Center. It is not just about what your brilliance and caring enables people to do physically – although, as I said, being able to tie my shoes sure beats not being able to. It is about how, in enabling people to do life’s myriad little tasks unselfconsciously and naturally, you liberate them to focus on living life to the fullest, to be known by the quality of their actions, by the goodness in their hearts, by their character and values.
To those of you who are here, not because you work at Union Memorial, but because you support that work in any number of different ways, I give my heartfelt thanks as well. In helping to support the Hand Center, you are giving others the chance Dr. Curtis gave me.
You give them the chance, in the words of the children’s poem, “to be the best of whatever you are.” Not everyone will take it, but those who do will discover what I have discovered: when you find peace being who you are – and shift the focus squarely to finding ways to live life being the best of whatever you are – life is a kick.