Paralyzed Woman Walks With New Technology

Jacob Pieczynski, Contributor

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On July 19, 2014, Kelly Thomas lost the ability to walk. At nineteen years old, the truck she was driving flipped four times coming around a bend and then crashed into a tree. When authorities found her, her body was motionless and hanging out of the car. She shouldn’t have survived the crash. Thomas remembers none of it, even after revisiting the site several times. Because of the horrific crash, Thomas cannot walk, lost all bladder function and the ability for her body to self-regulate temperature. As soon as she would go outside, her body temperature would skyrocket to 101°F.

Jeff Marquis was a prominent chef in his community. A man with a great job and life, he lost all ability to walk after a mountain biking accident. A third, unnamed person also lost all leg function.

All three, as well as one more person, are part of “innovative research conducted at the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at the University of Louisville,” (CNN). The study focused on people with motor complete spinal cord injury, meaning no movement below the injury. Two of the four people, Thomas and Marquis, are now able to walk because of the University’s revolutionary technology.

What is it? The device changing these people’s lives was never intended for this. The RestoreAdvanced SureScan MRI Neurostimulator device was only intended to help people with chronic pain cope. Medtronic created the device and it was FDA approved for pain management. The University of Lousiville discovered that it also helps restore movement. It helps the transmission of nerve signals over the injury site.

The device is not perfect for everyone and the University is not entirely sure how exactly it works. Two of the study participants are not capable of walking yet, but all four are capable of at least being able to move their legs and torso. The stimulation device is implanted in the lower spine of the patient. Its sixteen electrode array delivers electrical stimulation to the spinal cord. Coupled with intense physical therapy, it can be used to restore movement to the legs. The device is controlled by a remove that communicated to the device via a hub in the abdomen. Medtronic claims that the device has a long battery life, but if it were to die, complete paralysis would return.

With months of intense physical therapy and the neurostimulator, Thomas is one of the patients who took part in the study that can now walk. She nicknamed the implant “Junior” and it helps her with restoring her independence. Her balance is still off and she needs a walker for support, but she is able to walk more than 100 yards in the grass without stopping. Every day she improves. Thomas has also regained muscle in her legs after much of it was lost and lost the persistent nerve pain plaguing her foot. Immediately post-op, she was able to regain feeling in her legs using the device, regain her bladder function as well as temperature control.

Marquis can now walk independently, also using the help of a walker. A third, unnamed person can now walk with the help of a trainer.

 

https://www.theverge.com/2018/9/24/17896720/paralysis-spinal-cord-implant-walking-epidural-stimulation-device

https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/24/health/paralyzed-woman-walks-again/index.html

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