Sharing exciting videos about an experimental spinal surgery and an ongoing recovery story. Ryan Straschnitzki was one of the Humboldt Bronco hockey players injured in a very serious bus accident in Canada last year. Fourteen people were injured; sixteen were killed. Ryan sustained a spinal cord injury in the accident and has been diligently pursuing physical therapy since then. Recently he underwent surgery in Thailand to have an epidural stimulator implanted in his spine. The device is designed to stimulate nerves below the site of his injury. The results are pretty incredible, as you can see from these videos: when the stimulator is turned on, he's able to move his leg, and therapists are now helping him work on taking steps. Please keep Ryan Straschnitzki in your thoughts and prayers for continued progress.
As for the epidural stimulator technology, it's been in the news multiple times in the last few years. I thought readers might be curious to know more about what it entails. I am not a medical doctor and have not tried this technology, but according to reports, the internal stimulation process goes something like this: surgeons place a device called an implantable pulse generator (IPG) in the user's back or elsewhere in the body, and connect that device to electrodes put on the tissue around the spinal cord. They can program electrical currents sending signals to the IPG and, from there, to the electrodes. "The idea, in very basic terms, is to stimulate neurons" when the electrical stimulation is activated, as reported by a CBC News article (see here for the complete article). If you're interested in learning more, Wings for Life's site features more details and an info graphic.
There is a non-invasive version of electrical stimulation that has also seen some amazing results. This technique, known as transcutaneous stimulation, involves placing the electrodes on the skin of the user's lower back and then activating the electrodes with external electrical stimulation. An NIH news release notes that by the end of one study, the users "were able to move their legs with no stimulation at all and their range of movement was — on average — the same as when they were moving while receiving stimulation." (Click here to read the full 2015 NIH release.)
All in all, these strategies have the goal of reactivating dormant nerve pathways or creating new ones altogether. Life-changing outcomes.
NB: For more, you can read my older posts on related studies happening at the University of Kentucky: September 2018, January 2018, and November 2017. Thanks to Susan Harkema and Claudia Angeli for their work in Louisville!