Entries in Paralysis (10)


Spinal-Cord Injuries: FDA Approves Cell-Regeneration Therapy

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Marc Buoniconti has been paralyzed from the neck down for 27 years after a college football injury at South Carolina's The Citadel.

His Hall of Fame linebacker father, Nick Buoniconti, triumphed on the football field as a Boston Patriot and Miami Dolphin, but finding a cure for his son's paralysis has been the toughest game of all, until now.  

Father and son have seen the fruits of their joint venture -- the Miami Project Cure Paralysis -- to help the 300,000 Americans living with spinal-cord injuries.

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved a phase 1 clinical trial to evaluate the safety of transplanting human Schwann cells to treat patients with paralysis.  It is the first such trial in the world.

Researchers believe these cells, which are found in the peripheral nervous system and are responsible for sending electrical signals, might be the key to eventual cures.

"We believe today's announcement is just as important to our field as man's first step on the moon was to the space program," said neurosurgeon Dr. Barth Green, co-founder and chairman of The Miami Project.

Eight patients with acute spinal-cord injuries, or those within one month of paralysis, will be injected with their own Schwann cells as scientists at the University of Miami Medical Center monitor them for side effects.

"I am more optimistic now than I have ever been before," Marc Buoniconti said.

"You see decades of work and scientists have given their lives to neuroscience," he said.  "You see donors and friends giving millions of dollars for years, wanting to see results. ... It will be the culmination of hopes and dreams turned to reality."

Although this first effort at cell-replacement therapy is only a safety trial, Miami Center researchers hope the Schwann cells, which behave like stem cells, will eventually restore function and sensation.

They have already successfully repaired central nervous system injuries in lab animals by transplanting their own Schwann cells to the site of the injury, where they reinsulate damaged nerve cells.

In studies done in rats, mice, pigs and primates, about 70 percent of function and movement was restored to the fully paralyzed animals.

"Not only do [the Schwann cells] survive, they grow and remyelinate, with no toxicity or tumors," Buoniconti said.  "This is a huge stepping stone."

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Lightning Paralyzes Woman inside Her House

Comstock/Thinkstock(PLYMOUTH, Mass.) -- It's not unusual for the Plymouth, Mass., Fire Department to get a call about a lightning strike. But the call that came in from Carver Road in Plymouth last weekend was a little bit different. A woman reported being hit by lightning even though she had been sitting inside her house and the house itself wasn't hit -- she complained of paralysis in her legs and was transported to a local hospital.

"We didn't find any evidence of damage to the house...but there were numerous strikes in the area that day," Plymouth Deputy Fire Chief Michael Young said.

Everyone knows that a direct lightning strike can result in serious injury, even death. But the catastrophic consequences of an indirect lightning strike are not as well known.

Indirect lightning is defined as lightning that strikes one place but "induces consequences remotely" said Richard Kithil of the National Lighting Safety Institute, a Denver-based group.

"Random, unpredictable and arbitrary" are the hallmarks of a lightning strike, according to Kithil, who has spent years educating the public on the dangers of lightning strikes. Kithil said statistics show that lightning is the number two storm killer in the United States, right behind floods, and it's 2,000 times more likely that indirect lightning will cause some "mischief" rather than a direct strike, Kithil said.

A relatively common occurrence is when lightning strikes a power line, gets into the electrical system and a body becomes part of the electrical current path as the current runs through the house along a telephone line or a computer wire.

A typical lightning shock delivers 300 kilovolts of electricity in just a few milliseconds. And, while most people survive, the physical consequences of an indirect lightning strike can be devastating.

Dr. Robert Riviello, a surgeon in Boston's Brigham and Women's trauma, burn and critical care unit, said he has seen a handful of patients over the years who have been victims of indirect lightning strikes and they often have cardiac and neurological issues.

"We see a range of injuries including arrhythmias," he said. "I have seen temporary paralysis in one patient several years. The electricity can run in and out of your system by way of your spinal cord...although in my patient the paralysis lasted less than a day."

Lightning strikes most often between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Florida is the state with the most recorded injuries and deaths from lightning.

If there is lightning storm moving through your area there are some ways to protect yourself. Move away from trees and hilltops and head to lower ground. Get into a car if you can, because if lightning hits, the metal exterior will conduct the electricity leaving anyone on the inside relatively safe.

If you happen to be inside your house or business, that doesn't mean you're automatically safe.

"Don't touch anything that might become a conductor, including water, electrical appliances, computers, metal sliding doors or window sills," said Kithil, who added that Benjamin Franklin once said the only absolutely safe place to go in a lightning storm is "inside sitting in a silk hammock reading a good book."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Paraplegic Explains Passion to Climb Kilimanjaro

Chris Waddell is the first person to climb Mount Kilimanjaro using a handcycle, a trek documented in the 2010 film "One Revolution." (Courtesy Chris Waddell)(NEW YORK) -- Chris Waddell's face was inches from the ground, coated in volcanic ash. He was exhausted, drained from the previous days of climbing the varied terrain of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. But there was a mountain he needed to climb, so he turned the crank on his handcycle one revolution, and then another, and then one thousand more times until he reached camp for the day.

A skiing accident two decades before had left Waddell paralyzed from the waist down. But because of a hand-cranked wheelchair, he was able to achieve what many assumed was impossible, becoming the first person to summit Mount Kilimanjaro using a handcycle, a trek documented in the 2010 film One Revolution.

"The idea of climbing a mountain, people could understand that," Waddell, now 43, told ABC's 20/20 in an interview. "That's the metaphor for life: This idea that we're all climbing a mountain."

After his accident, Waddell said, he refused to focus on what he could no longer do, telling ABC News that the accident was the best thing that has ever happened to him.

"I felt like a transformed person," he said. "I felt, in a lot of ways, like the person that I'd always thought I was, like the best form of myself."

Waddell was back on the ski slopes on a mono-ski, a ski in which both feet are attached parallel to the board, a few months after his accident. He set his goals high, determined to focus on the positive aspects of his disability.

"That was my full intention, that I was going to be a world-class skier," Waddell told Roberts. "I was going to be the best in the world."

He eventually competed in the Albertville, Lillehammer, Nagano and Salt Lake Paralympics Games, winning 12 gold medals for mono-skiing and one gold medal for wheelchair racing in the Sydney games. He became the most decorated paralympian in U.S. history.

But at the apex of his career, he decided to retire and set his sights on his next goal: Kilimanjaro.

"This thought just popped into my head, 'Well, I should just climb Mount Kilimanjaro,'" Waddell said. "I had no idea if it was possible, but I felt like we had to tell the story."

After months of training, Waddell and his team began the climb in September 2009. On the first day, he climbed 3,000 feet of elevation, arriving at camp ahead of schedule. He defied expectations as he cranked through miles of difficult terrain with the help of porters, who placed boards under his wheels to make the trails passable.

Amanda Stoddard, who directed One Revolution, told 20/20 the porters were amazed by Waddell.

"They were astounded," Stoddard said. "There was a word on the mountain that the porters called Chris. I translated it as nguvu-man: superman."

But for Waddell, making it to the top meant more than just defining himself as superhuman. It meant changing the perceptions of disabled people, a message he shares through his One Revolution Foundation and Nametags programs.

"One Revolution is the idea that something small, that one turn of the crank, can lead to something big," he said. "Hopefully, it can lead to something else, to this idea of change in how we see ourselves.

Waddell hopes that his accomplishments will make an impact on perceptions of the disabled community.

"I want to change the way that the world sees people with disabilities," Waddell said. "It's not what happens to you, it's what you do with what happens to you."

Learn more about Chris Waddell and find out what "kryptonite" almost derailed his climb to the top on a special "Super Humans" edition of ABC's 20/20 Friday at 9 p.m. ET.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Woman to Marry One Year After Being Paralyzed at Bachelorette Party

Ciaran Griffin/Thinkstock(PITTSBORO, N.C.) -- Rachelle Friedman is finally getting her day in white.

The paralyzed bride-to-be who was left wheelchair bound last year after a freak accident at her bachelorette party will be married this weekend to her fiance, Chris Chapman, in North Carolina.

"It was my dream and it is my dream to marry Chris," Friedman, 25, told ABC News Monday. "This is the one thing I wasn't able to have for so long and now I can have it."

"It's a huge deal. It was so close and then it just fell out of my grasp," said Friedman.

In August 2010, Friedman was left unable to walk and unable to feel sensation beneath her collarbone after she was pushed into a pool by one of her bridesmaids, a joke the group of girls frequently played on one another.

She hit her head on the bottom of the pool and doctors later confirmed that she had suffered a C6 spinal cord injury.

Friedman, who never revealed the identity of the bridesmaid responsible for her injury, said that the young woman will be in her wedding this Friday.

"A lot of people think, 'poor Rachelle,' or 'This happened to Rachelle,'" said Friedman. "Yes it sucks, but this also happened to her and in some ways I don't know what I would do if I were her.

"It's a situation where she was hurt emotionally and mentally and I was hurt physically, but I really think I would at least have a harder time emotionally," she said. "It's really, really hard to heal emotionally, even maybe than to learn to live in my physical situation."

Friedman says that since her story went international, she has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from perfect strangers. Her wedding, which she says wasn't exactly a priority while facing mounting medical bills, is being paid for by 1-800 Registry, as is her honeymoon to Fiji.

And rehab therapy -- coveted treatment that is too expensive at the moment for Friedman -- is being donated to the bride by Project Walk in California, a center she says is "known for getting people out of wheelchairs."

"I'm completely flabbergasted and excited," said Friedman of the support. "I knew it would all happen, but not like this."

The wedding, set for Pittsboro, N.C., will feature Friedman's favorite flowers -- sunflowers -- and a country theme.

Albeit a bit untraditionally, Friedman says she and her groom will have a first dance.

"Yes, I'm sad we won't be dancing 'normally,' I wont be prancing around the floor, but we are going to dance," she said. "We are going to have our first dance."

Larry Friedman, Friedman's father, will accompany his daughter down the aisle, although they won't be walking side by side.

As for the emotion going into her wedding weekend, Friedman says she can't stop smiling, but knows that her family and friends will probably be unable to hold back tears.

"I think everyone in the crowd will be crying, but I am just so happy," said Friedman.

"I'm going to be all smiles. It will be emotional, but it will be happy."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


H1N1 Flu Vaccine Not Linked to Risk of Paralysis, Researchers Say

Jeffrey Hamilton/Thinkstock(ROTTERDAM, Netherlands) -- Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare condition in which a person’s immune system attacks nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.  

Although in the past there has been some concern that flu vaccines may increase the risk of this condition, a recent study published in the British Medical Journal found that people in five European countries who received the H1N1 vaccine in 2009 were at no greater risk of Guillain-Barré as those who did not receive the shot.  

Furthermore, the authors from Erasmus University Medical Center estimate, based on their results, that the actual risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome is less than three cases for every one million individuals protected by the vaccination.  

Authors of the accompanying editorial write that although the H1N1 stand-alone vaccine is no longer being used, “data on their safety are relevant to current clinical practice because the H1N1 strain in the pandemic vaccine has been incorporated into the currently recommended trivalent seasonal vaccine.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NFL Quarterback Diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome

James D. Smith/WireImage(ATLANTA) -- Former quarterback Danny Wuerffel has been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that causes paralysis. Wuerffel, who lives in Decatur, Ga., noticed he was losing sensation in his legs and strength in his arms shortly after he battled a stomach virus June 4. It's thought that his immune system started to attack the nerves that control movement and sensation, mistaking them for the virus.

Wuerffel's strength is currently half of what it was, according to his wife, Jessica.

"He's hanging in there," said Jessica, who was taking their three young kids to the beach for a distraction. "It's a distressing situation but, to be honest, his faith is strong."

Guillain-Barré syndrome affects about one in 100,000 people, usually striking in the days or weeks following a viral infection, according to the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Surgery and vaccinations can also trigger the disorder. But it's unclear why some people are affected while others are not.

"It's like a bolt of lightning that kind of comes out of the blue," said Dr. James Caress, associate professor of neurology at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston Salem, N.C.

Most people with Guillain-Barré reach their weakest point within two to four weeks after symptoms first appear. In severe cases, the disorder can attack the nerves that control breathing muscles, such that patients need artificial ventilators and feeding tubes to survive, Caress said.

Wuerffel is not completely paralyzed, but has been advised by his doctors to stay immobile during his recovery, his wife said. But it's unclear how long that recovery will take.

Treatments for Guillain-Barré, such as plasma exchange and intravenous immunoglobulins, are aimed at ridding the body of the dangerous antibodies attacking the nerves and replacing them with healthy antibodies from donors. But while treatments can the accelerate recovery, they may not influence how weak the person gets before regaining his or her strength.

Recovery time runs from a few weeks to a few years. But about 30 percent of patients still have some degree of weakness after three years, according to the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Wuerffel, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1996 while playing for the Florida Gators, was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 1997. He played for the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears, and the Washington Redskins before retiring from the National Football League in 2002. He now heads up Desire Street Ministries, a Christian charity that serves impoverished communities in New Orleans.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Paraplegic Moves Legs Voluntarily for First Time

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(PORTLAND, Ore.) -- Many who know hometown baseball star Rob Summers call him Superman. Since age six, Summers, now 25, was a champion pitcher in his hometown of Portland, Ore. In 2006, after his team at Oregon State University won the College World Series, Rob dreamed of going into the Major Leagues.

But he never knew that his nickname would ring true until July 2006, when he was struck in a hit-and-run accident and became paralyzed below the neck.

And nearly three years after his paralysis, through clinical research supported by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, Summers stood on his own and took his first step. Summers became the first paralysis patient to undergo a procedure that uses his own nerve impulses to help move parts of his body that he was told he would never use again.

In December 2009, doctors implanted an electric nerve stimulator in Summers' spine, below the area that was damaged. When the stimulator is turned on, a panel of 16 electrodes reactivates the nerves in Summers' spinal cord, helping him move his muscles on his own.

During a therapy session a few months after the procedure, Summers, surrounded by researchers and family, discovered he could voluntarily wiggle his toes.

Nearly 1.3 million Americans are living with spinal cord injuries, and 5.6 million Americans live with some form of paralysis, according to the Reeve Foundation.

Although robotic devices are increasingly used to help control movement, nerve stimulation manipulates a person's own impulses to move.

For decades, researchers have looked at stimulating nerves in the spinal cords of paralyzed mice.

"It's been very exciting to be able to show it happens to humans," said Dr. Susan Harkema, the lead researcher and a professor in the department of neurological surgery at the University of Louisville.

Many people paralyzed by spinal cord injuries endure complications beyond the initial injury. Paralyzed patients have a higher likelihood of developing heart disease and diabetes, mostly because paralysis leaves them sedentary.

But standing has helped improve Summers' circulation, regain his muscle strength, and helped boost his confidence.

The procedure is still in early phases of human research and has not been FDA approved. Harkema says further trials will be able to tell better what types of patients would benefit from this procedure.

"I've worked with spinal cord injuries for 15 years, anything that can reduce that suffering is fantastic," said Harkema. "This approach has the potential to take people past the limits of a wheelchair."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Innovative Surgery Helps a Young Girl Take Back Her Smile

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Caitlin Cowen, 19, of Phibodeaux, La., laughed as she talked about majoring in mass communications. Her laugh signaled so much about her enthusiasm, especially since two years ago, Cowen couldn't even smile.

"A smile was a simple form of communication," said Cowen, a sophomore at Louisiana's Nicholls State University. "I felt like if I was happy, I couldn't show it. So it meant that I wasn't really happy."

In 2008, Cowen suffered partial paralysis after undergoing surgery to remove a tumor from the right side of her brain stem. Cowen was bound to a wheelchair for months as she worked to regain strength and overcome paralysis on the left side of her body, paralysis that made it impossible for Cowen to move the muscles that would allow her to smile.

But a year later, Cowen underwent an innovative surgery at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston -- called free gracilis transfer -- to restore muscle movement to her face.

In two procedures, surgeons took nerve and muscle tissue from Cowen's thigh and implanted it into the paralyzed side of her face.

While surgeons have used free gracilis transfer for more than a decade, it was considered arduous and could take up to 12 hours, according to Dr. Mack Cheney, a professor of facial reconstructive surgery at Harvard Medical School, and one of Cowen's doctors.

But free gracilis transfer has advanced so dramatically in the past five years that it should be considered first-line therapy for children who have facial paralysis, according to a paper released Monday in the Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery, which Cheney co-wrote.

Free gracilis transfer works for patients who are born with facial paralysis, as well as for those who have endured brain tumors or other traumas that have caused paralysis, said Cheney, who oversees about four of these procedures each month.

Cheney said that facial paralysis is emotionally hardest for patients like Cowen, who once had normal facial function.

"The ability to communicate and understand emotional signals go away, which is different from patients who never had that facial function to begin with," he said. "When you lose it, you feel the difference."

But a few months after Cowen's second surgery, nearly two years after the brain stem surgery that left her partially paralyzed, Cowen could smile again.

In March, Cowen was crowned queen of her sorority's mardi gras dance. And in each of her photos, she was all smiles.

"Every time I see myself smile, I think it's awesome," said Cowen. "I think I appreciate it more."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Teen Paralyzed From Piercing Dances Again

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images(LONDON) – A young girl in Britain has defied medical expectations to overcome paralysis and dance again, reports the Daily Mail.

When 15-year-old Grace Etherington was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare immune disorder that attacks the nervous system, doctors at Evelina Children’s Hospital in London told her she could remain motionless for the rest of her life, dependent on a ventilator to breathe and unable to move or communicate. Etherington developed the disease after a getting a viral infection from a routine ear piercing.

"It was a fate worse than death. She would be trapped in a lifeless shell," her mother, Sharon Etherington, 41, of Sittingbourne, Kent, told the British newspaper.

But less than a year after her diagnoses, she took her first steps. Months later, intensive physical therapy had her walking again. Finally, in May, she achieved her dream of dancing with her troupe in London. With the exception of some ongoing fatigue, she has recovered completely.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Paralyzed Rutgers Football Player's New Challenge: Tackling Rehab

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(HACKENSACK, N.J.) -- The video is hard to watch. Rutgers University defensive back Eric LeGrand goes in head-first for a tackle and collapses on the 25-yard line, frozen from the neck down by a spinal cord injury.

LeGrand, a junior at Rutgers, is currently in the intensive care unit at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. He had emergency spinal surgery soon after the game last Saturday. Rutgers announced he was paralyzed from the neck down.

Paralysis can be a grave diagnosis, as seen in other high-profile cases. Christopher Reeve, who had become famous for his role as Superman, was paralyzed from the neck down after an equestrian injury in 1995. He remained in a wheelchair and on life support, becoming one of America's leading advocates for spinal injury research until he died in 2004.

But paralysis has brought other stories that seem to border on miracles. In 2000, Adam Taliaferro, then a freshman cornerback at Penn State, was paralyzed after making a tackle. Several doctors said he would never walk again, but four months later, he did just that -- and in 2001, he led his old team onto the field before a game to roaring applause from the crowd.

Taliaferro later founded the Taliaferro Foundation, a non-profit organization that offers emotional, financial and educational support to student-athletes who suffer catastrophic head or spinal injuries in sanctioned team events. Taliaferro's father has already reached out to LeGrand's family to say the foundation is there to provide any support the family may need.

"My advice to Eric is to focus on where he wants to be," said Taliaferro. "He's going to hear negative news, but he has to block that out. No one knows what he has inside him. He was playing [Division One] football for a reason. He knows how to work hard, and he'll have the strength and tools to get through rehab."

And that rehabilitation road is a long one. As of Tuesday, doctors said there had been no change in Eric LeGrand's medical status after the spinal cord injury three days before. Even for the experts in the field, it's tough to say what's in store for him.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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