The hand is the No. 1 injured part of the body. “You’re constantly using your hands, and there are so many ways you can injure them,” says Dr. Kelly Babineaux, a hand surgeon and assistant professor of clinical surgery at LSU. “They’re not in a shoe and protected like your feet.”
In fact, Louisiana hands might well be more at risk than hands in many other places. Dr. Babineaux says there are a large number of complex crush injuries and near amputations that result from work on the riverfront, on oil rigs and in the commercial fishing industries. Many outlying hospitals — even as far away as Mississippi — cannot handle the intricacy, and they send their patients to her.
And if that is not enough, we 21st-century humans tend to heap on the hand abuse through overuse injuries. “We spend so much time on our phones texting and emailing,” Dr. Babineaux says. “It’s very high demand on the hands. Overuse injuries are a lot more common now because of the gadgets. I have to tell my patients in pain: ‘Take a break. Stop using the computer. Stop playing video games. Stop texting.’”
Hand surgery merges a love of the intricate with several life experiences for Dr. Babineaux.
From the day her cousin had brain tumor surgery and she begged to see inside the operating room, Dr. Babineaux always knew she would be a surgeon. Her father is a physical therapist, so she was interested in orthopedics going through medical school but unsure about the male-dominated field. The level of physicality was too high for her petite 5-foot-4-inch frame. Plastic surgery seemed a better fit, but hand surgery bridged the divide between the two fields.
“Even my father said, ‘That would be perfect for you … the size of what you’re dealing with, the complexity … .’ I’m detail-oriented. It suited me. I have little hands and everything is little,” she says.
After a general surgery residency at LSU, she had to leave the state to find a fellowship in hand surgery. She went to Yale (“Just a little girl from Rayne, Louisiana, going to do a fellowship at Yale,” she says) and the most important thing it taught her was her education at LSU was exceptional.
“I arrived there and I was like, ‘Darn, I can hang with the best of them,’” she says. “I had seen stuff they hadn’t even seen. Some of the residents were asking me for help.”
Her training and experience now influences her work with LSU residents in clinics, the operating room and in monthly conferences as one of the only teaching hand surgeons in the city. “It’s fun and exciting being a part of educating medical students and residents,” she says.
Her next goal? To help establish a hand surgery fellowship for LSU, the first of its kind in the state.
On achieving patient-centered care: “I let the patients do all the talking,” Dr. Babineaux says. “My role is to listen carefully. I jot down personal information, their occupation, their hobbies and all the things they do with their hands. I maximize my short time with them and get as much information as I can through very pointed questions. I guide their decision-making, but ultimately the patients choose their own care.”
On trends in the specialty: “The trend in hand surgery is to do everything under the least amount of anesthesia as needed,” she says. “So we’re using local blocks and not using tourniquets, which is awesome. We can do a lot more in the office. I can just numb the finger … it’s so much better for the patient; it’s an easier, faster recovery and so much more affordable.”
On striking a life-work balance: “It is a challenge,” Dr. Babineaux says. “Unfortunately, right now, work kind of tips the scales and wins out. It’s very demanding. We’ve grown so we’re looking to hire another hand surgeon to help get that balance back.”
How patients affirm the decision to become a surgeon: Dr. Babineaux says feedback and function make all the difference: “I saved [a patient’s] thumb through multiple surgeries after a paint can exploded in his hand,” she says. “He told me, ‘You’re an incredible surgeon. Look what you did for me.’ Getting to see patients return to a high level of functioning is always my No. 1 goal.”
Medical School: LSU
Residency: LSU, General Surgery
Fellowship: Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Plastic Surgery, Hand and Microsurgery
LSU Healthcare Network Clinic
3601 Houma Blvd., Ste. 302
3700 St. Charles Ave., 3rd floor