Amazing new treatment helps completely paralyzed people walk again
The revolutionary technique reportedly involves 22 weeks of rigorous physical therapy for patients who were considered for the implant
According to a recent news update, three people who were previously paralyzed have started walking after an implant was placed in their spine, according to the Daily Mail. Jared Chinnock, Kelly Thomas and Jeff Marquis are now able to take small steps, all thanks to the implant in their spine.
Chinnock has been paralyzed since 2013 and was the first patient following such a devastating injury to take independent steps at the Mayo Clinic. As per reports, the electronic device 'reconnects' neurons in Chinnock's legs with his brain, so whenever he thinks of walking or standing, he can do so with ease.
Apart from Chinnock, two other patients, Kelly Thomas and Jeff Marquis, have also been able to achieve a similar level of success during another study conducted at the University of Louisville. The breakthrough was partly funded by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, and the implant is expected to help millions out of their wheelchairs and train their bodies out of paralysis, suggest reports.
The same research was also partly funded by the National Institutes of Health, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Louisville in Kentucky. The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation was set up after the iconic Superman actor was left paralyzed from the neck down after a horse-riding accident in May 1995 and passed away in 2004 from complications in his paralysis.
Back in 2013, Chinnock was out on a frozen lake near his home with his then-wife Nicole, along with family and friends. While they were snowmobiling, Chinnock hit a bump and was thrown from his vehicle, when he was hit by another vehicle coming his way.
"I just thought I got the wind knocked out of me and needed to catch my breath and released I couldn't get up," he said. As a result of the accident, the avid outdoorsman left the hospital with several broken ribs, a punctured lung, and a spine that was fractured in three places.
However, surgeons at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, were able to screw Chinnock's spine back together. They also discovered that the nerves which helped carry signals from the brain to the legs had been severed, so Chinnock wasn't able to move anything below his mid-torso. "I was pretty much set in my ways of going to be in my wheelchair the rest of my life," Chinnock said.
As for Kelly Thomas of Homosassa, Florida, she suffered a spinal injury in a road accident in July 2014. Thomas was reportedly driving her truck when it veered off the shoulder of the road. When she tried to correct it, the vehicle flipped. She hit her head on the roof of the vehicle, as a result of which her spine was compressed, leaving her paralyzed.
Jeff Marquis, on the other hand, was a chef living in Whitefish, Montana, when in 2011, he went through a biking accident that changed his life forever. "I was going down a trail that had a bunch of jumps that I normally skipped," said Marquis, who now lives in Louisville, Kentucky. "That day, I hadn't really decided whether I was going around them or I was going to try it for once. I went over it without jumping and I ended up breaking my neck."
According to reports, scientists at the Mayo Clinic were working on research at the time that combined physical therapy with spinal cord stimulation to restore movement to people who are paralyzed. The revolutionary technique reportedly involved 22 weeks of rigorous physical therapy for patients who were considered for the implant.
Chinnock revealed that he had to be hoisted onto a treadmill so his legs could be repeatedly moved by trainers in order to strengthen the priorly wasted muscles. After the treadmills, he had an electrode placed right beneath his injured area with a wire, which in turn was connected to a pacemaker-sized battery.
This was put in his stomach at the same time, just below the skin. The tool gets switched on and off using a TV-style remote control that can change the amount of voltage and even the precise location of stimulation, which in turn enables the tool to boost either standing or walking.
Dr. Kendall Lee, a neurosurgeon at the Mayo Clinic whose team carried out the operation, said: "[Chinnock] was able to regain voluntary control of the movement in his legs. The patient's own thoughts were able to drive this. We were able to get him to stand independently and be able to take his own steps."
Chinnock can now walk for as long as 16 minutes and as far as 111 yards, which is almost the same length as a football field, reports Nature Medicine. He said at the time: "It was almost mind-blowing. Right away I was able to move my toes. It was a 'pinch me, see-if-this-is-real kind of thing'."
Meanwhile, Thomas and Marquis signed up for the study at the University of Louisville and were enrolled in November 2016. Thomas also underwent training in the same manner as Chinnock, and after months of walking on a treadmill with trainers, she took her first steps on her own in February 2018.
"The first day I took steps on my own was an emotional milestone in my recovery that I'll never forget as one minute I was walking with the trainer's assistance and, while they stopped, I continued walking on my own," she said in a press release.
On the other hand, Marquis, who was paralyzed from the waist down and in some of his fingers as well, took longer than the others, precisely 85 weeks, before he started taking steps on his own. "The first steps after my mountain biking accident were such a surprise, and I am thrilled to have progressed by continuing to take more steps each day," he said in the press release.
"In addition, my endurance has improved, as I've regained strength and the independence to do things I used to take for granted like cooking and cleaning."
Currently, as a safety precaution, the patients take steps only under the supervision of the researchers. "He is not taking steps at home but he has been doing other movements, including sitting and side-lying positions," said Dr. Kristin Zhao, an associate professor at the Mayo Clinic. "Now I think the real challenge starts, and that's understanding how this happened, why it happened, and which patients will respond."
"What this is teaching us is that those networks of neurons below a spinal cord injury can still function after paralysis," said Dr. Lee. "It gives hope to patients with paralysis that functional control may be possible."
The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation released a statement that partly read, "Not long ago, many naysayers believed that the spinal cord, once injured, could never be repaired or recover. Thanks to researchers from UCLA, the Mayo Clinic, and the University of Louisville, we believe that spinal cord injury may no longer mean a lifetime of paralysis."
"We have never been closer to delivering on Christopher Reeve's dream of a world of empty wheelchairs, and the Reeve Foundation is eager to fast-track the next phase of epidural stimulation research so that many more individuals can reclaim functions once thought to be lost."