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President Completes Operation ‘With Flying Colors’ : Reagan Has Surgery for Hand Disorder

Times Staff Writer

President Reagan underwent surgery Saturday morning for repair of a condition that caused a deforming, inward curving of the ring finger of his left hand, the White House said.

“The President is comfortable and completed the operation with flying colors. He was alert and responsive throughout the process,” reported Army Col. John E. Hutton Jr., the President’s physician.

The surgery was performed under a local anesthetic. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Reagan discussed aspects of the surgery with the physicians--as well as horses and his return to California--while the operation was taking place.

Staying at Medical Center

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The President was expected to remain overnight at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where the operation was performed, and return to the White House today.

The procedure was carried out to repair a condition known as a Dupuytren’s (pronounced dew-pwee-TRANS) Contracture. The ailment causes an involuntary, but generally painless, curvature of fingers and toes. It is named for Baron Guillaume Dupuytren, a French military surgeon in Napoleon’s army.

Hutton said the surgeons performed a procedure that involves removing thickened, scar-like tissue that keeps the finger from straightening. In Reagan’s case, the incision reached from the palm to the tip of the ring finger, Fitzwater said.

The White House said the entire procedure began at 7:30 a.m., with the administering of a local anesthetic to numb the arm. The surgery began at 8:24 a.m. and was completed by 11 a.m. Fitzwater said Reagan returned to his hospital room shortly after the surgery and was visited by his wife, Nancy.

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According to Hutton, the disease reached from the tip of the finger to the wrist. The White House physician said, however, that after healing is complete, Reagan should have full use of the finger. Hutton said earlier that the contracture was minimal when Reagan took office in 1981 but had progressed to the point that surgery was required.

Had 3 Major Operations

The 77-year-old President, who was described by the White House physician as being in excellent overall health, has undergone major surgery three times during his eight-year presidency, which ends a week from Friday. A bullet was removed after a 1981 assassination attempt, a cancerous polyp was removed from his colon in 1985 and prostate surgery was performed in 1987. In addition, several skin cancers have been removed from his nose.

The operation Saturday was not expected to disrupt Reagan’s final two weeks in the White House, Fitzwater said.

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However, Reagan’s left arm will be bandaged and kept in a sling for several days. The White House spokesman said, however, that a “dynamic” splint would be required for several months to ensure correct healing. Such a device is made of metal placed on the back of the hand, and rubber bands that cradle the finger to encourage it to remain straight.

Reagan was also being given what Fitzwater described as “routine postoperative antibiotics and analgesic as necessary.”

More Common in Men

Although British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has undergone the operation, Dupuytren’s Contracture has been found to occur in men 10 times more frequently than in women. It is more common in people of Northern European descent, and it may affect as many as 20% of people over 60 years of age.

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It is most often corrected on an outpatient basis, and Medicare payments do not generally cover overnight hospitalization for the procedure.


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