Dealing with a serious hand injury can be extremely difficult and life-altering, especially when you are a pianist.
Jaclyn Perkins is a 21-year-old Colorado native and sophomore at Brigham Young University (BYU) studying human development and piano performance. She has been playing the piano since the age of 4, winning music competitions through her growing-up years. In high school, Perkins worked with various music professors from BYU who helped her hone her craft.
"I love the piano because it allows me to express myself in ways that aren't possible without it," Perkins said. "I feel more at home on the keys than anywhere else."
But in January 2020, Perkins had an accident that could have ended her musical career. "I was making mango salsa, cutting up a mango with some new knives we got for Christmas," Perkins said. "The knives were really sharp, and I almost cut my pinky right off."
Perkins cut through the superficial and deep tendons in her left pinky. She also cut the digital artery and partially cut both nerves in her pinky finger.
Perkins had her first reconstructive surgery at University of Utah Health shortly after her injury in January 2020.
With a background in adult and pediatric hand surgery, reconstructive microsurgery, and functional reconstruction of traumatic injuries, Isak Goodwin, MD, a board-certified, fellowship-trained plastic surgeon at U of U Health, was able to help get Perkins on the right track.
"During Jaclyn's surgery, we were able to repair both of the severed tendons in what we call zone 2 of the hand," said Goodwin. "Typically, patients who have traumatic injuries in this area don't have great outcomes. But we were able to get a really good repair and outcome for Jaclyn."
Perkins started hand therapy after her first surgery, but COVID-19 restrictions in early 2020 prevented her from getting the amount of therapy needed to prevent scar tissue from forming.
"I had to get a second surgery in June 2020 to remove the scar tissue," said Perkins. "Luckily, Dr. Goodwin was able to successfully remove the scar tissue, and I started hand therapy again soon after surgery."
Although the journey to recovery has been long—between two surgeries and hand therapy, Perkins spent nearly a year healing—it has been worth it. Her sense of humor and family support has definitely helped in her recovery.
"After I first injured my hand, most text messages from my mom were full of 'How to cut a mango safely' YouTube videos," Perkins said.
And thanks to the expertise of Goodwin, Perkins has fully recovered from her injury, continuing her music studies in piano performance—no small feat, even for someone who didn't almost lose a finger. Perkins spends 15 hours a week practicing the piano, on top of her other coursework.
"I have had no issues," Perkins said. "I was terrified that my musical career would end because of this injury. I feel so blessed to have Dr. Goodwin as my surgeon, and the amazing hand therapy at the U to get me where I am today."
And Perkins isn't the only person excited about her great outcome. Goodwin, her surgeon, is also grateful for her remarkably successful recovery.
"In her post-operative course, she did really well," Goodwin said. "We got her into hand therapy soon after both surgeries, which is an important part of our hand care. She got moving really quickly and ended up just doing fantastically and getting back all of her function. We were very meticulous about every aspect of her care and it panned out."
For Perkins, the future is bright. She plans to continue her piano studies through the rest of her college career and also plans to teach piano lessons to any and all who want to enrich their lives with music. And although the injury to her pinky finger was serious, Perkins and her family keep a spirit of gratitude and joy that helps keep them moving forward.
"You know, the average cook would at most slice their thumb, put a band-aid on it, and be able to finish making their mango salsa," said Perkins. "I am a different story. Go big or go home, or go to the ER, or go to a reconstructive hand surgeon. I really took my parent's counsel of never doing things halfway."