New device may make recovery from spinal cord injuries possible

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Spinal cord injuries can be devastating and permanent, but we now know that implanting a stimulating device in the lower area of the cord may make recovery possible.

Dustin Chillcox is paralyzed from the chest down. He can’t move it, even a tiny bit, but doctors at the University of Louisville implanted a device to stimulate his spinal cord, and when Chillcox turns it on, he can move on command.

When the stimulator is turned off, he can’t even sit up, because the muscles of his torso don’t work, but when it’s turned on, he can sit up without any support at all.

“The first time I turned it on was exciting and emotional for me at the same time. Emotional because I was told that I’d never be able to move my legs again,” he said.

Chillcox is one of four patients whose stories were just published in the journal “Brain.” They all had complete paralysis for more than two years, but after the device was implanted, all four regained voluntary movement.

None of them can walk yet, but they’ve continued to improve.

This study was funded by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation that was established after the late actor suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury. The report concludes with a very optimistic statement: “We have uncovered a fundamentally new intervention strategy that can dramatically affect recovery of voluntary movement in individuals with complete paralysis even years after injury.”

Dr. Susan Harkema said, “I think what’s incredibly exciting is that we’ve opened up a realm of possibilities of what we can do now with people who are paralyzed and we’ve just scratched the surface.”

All four of the patients have been able to incorporate their regained abilities into everyday life, and they’ve continued to improve with further stimulation and training.

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