Rob Summers, a paraplegic, has regained voluntary movement with an implanted device in his spine as well as months of rehabilitation. After a devastating spinal cord injury that was the result of car hitting him while he was standing at his trunk removing a gym bag, he is able to stand up from his wheelchair when he wants to. He is able to do this because of a pacemaker-like device that sends a very gentle electric current through 16 electrodes implanted in his spine. The device does not make his muscles move, rather he is able to control the muscle movements himself. The device activates and excites the neurons in his spine which allows them to receive and react to sensory information from his legs. Summers' has never been more excited about his progress and plans to one day be able to play baseball again.

The results of this type of treatment are being described as "unprecedented in spinal cord injury medicine". The study was lead by Susan Harkema, PhD, of the University of Louisville, Ky. and was also based off of over 30 years of animal research by her mentor and study partner, researcher V. Reggie Edgerton, PhD. from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Harkema and Summers met at the TIRR Research Center in Houston and she invited him to the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center where she is the director. Summers became the first of five planned patients to receive the epidural stimulation device which was originally designed and FDA-approved for pain relief. Engineer Joel Burdick, PhD., of the California Institute of Technology adapted the device for spinal cord treatment. Although Summers spent 26 months trying to move, he was unable to until he received the implant. After Harkema's team found the correct level and pattern of electric stimulation, he was able to stand with only minimal support for balance. After seven months, he was able to move his legs on command. The device however is not meant to be left on, so he can neither stand nor move when the device is off. However, that small factor has not stopped his determination. He wants to one day be able to play baseball again.

Harkema and her team warn that the procedure is still experimental and that not all patients will be candidates or see the same type of results. The study was funded by the Christopher and Dana Reeves Foundation and by the National Institutes of Health. The entire report and findings of Harkema's study will be published in the May 20th online issue of The Lancet.

Have You Suffered a Spinal Cord Injury?

If you've been hurt and suffered a spinal cord injury you should speak with a spinal cord injury attorney as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our Charleston, South Carolina office directly at 843.488.2359 to schedule your consultation. We are also able to meet clients at our ConwayMyrtle BeachMurrells InletMt. PleasantNorth Myrtle Beach or North Charleston office locations.

Dirk J. Derrick
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South Carolina Lawyer Dirk Derrick helps victims recover from car accidents, personal injury & wrongful death.
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