Entries in Paralyzed (10)


Bionic Suit Helps Paralyzed Patients Walk Again

Ekso Bionics(LOS ANGELES) -- Patients paralyzed by spinal cord injuries are taking their precious first steps at a Southern California hospital with the help of a battery-powered bionic suit that was first designed to help soldiers carry heavy loads.

“Mentally it’s a wonderful feeling to be upright and moving,” said Aaron Bloom, who was paralyzed two years ago in an accident.

The 27-year-old was told he would never walk again, but with each step in the Ekso Bionic Suit  at Huntington Memorial Hospital, he’s defying the odds.

“Right now, I don’t really need anybody holding me. I can lift my hands up and put a little weight on these crutches and feel pretty comfortable,” he said.

The suit, which costs $150,000, is strapped on over a person’s clothes. Foot plate sensors help locate the center of gravity so the person wearing the suit can maintain their balance as they take each step. A computer is worn on the back to help drive the hip and knee motors.

The entire suit weighs 45 pounds, but the load is transferred to the ground so the patient does not bear the weight, according to Ekso Bionics, the company behind the breakthrough technology.

It took Bloom weeks of practice to feel comfortable using the suit. He knows it’s not a perfect solution, but for now, it is hope.

“I have no doubt in my lifetime that there will be some sort of solution for spinal cord injuries,” he said. “I firmly believe that I will be able to walk in the future. It’s just a matter of time.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Woman Paralyzed While Helping Stranger Determined to Walk Aisle at Wedding

ABC(CANFIELD, Ohio) -- A 22-year-old Pennsylvania nursing student who was paralyzed after being struck by a truck last winter is now determined to walk down the aisle at her upcoming wedding.

Alissa Boyle, a nursing student at Waynesburg University, was weeks away from graduating when on Feb. 20 she headed to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W. Va. She and a few others stopped to assist 21-year-old Derek Hartzog, who had rolled his Jeep on Interstate 79.

Just as they managed to pull the man from the vehicle, they heard someone yelling that a truck was barreling down the road right at them.

“When I turned around, there was a semi right there and not stopping,” Boyle told Western Pennsylvania ABC affiliate WTAE.

Boyle, fellow nursing student Cami Abernethy and Hartzog were forced to leap over the railing over the edge of the overpass, which was 40 or 50 feet above the ground. Boyle was the most seriously injured of the three.

“When I did wake up, I just remember being in pain. I remember just being in pain, and it was the worst pain in my life,” Boyle said. “They told me I’d never walk again. The doctor told me right away that I had a one percent chance of walking,” she said.

As she began her lengthy recovery in western Pennsylvania after the accident, Boyle’s thoughts turned to her upcoming wedding to Nathan, who was stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and had just proposed to her.

“At first, when it happened, I was worried that he was going to leave, and he never left my bedside. He told me, ‘You’re not going to walk. You’re going to run again,’” said Boyle.

A second look showed doctor’s that Boyle’s spinal cord was not completely severed, as the first doctor had told her. Suddenly she had hope that Nathan was right, and she would be able to walk.

A sense of determination now brings Boyle to physical therapy, and she is resolute in her decision to be able to walk down the aisle at her upcoming wedding at the Avion on the Water in Canfield, Ohio. She says she’s out to prove wrong the doctor who said she had a slim chance to walk again.

Boyle now works out her legs on a sit-down stationary bike, and with the support of her friends and family -- and a charity called Jamie’s Dream Team, who offer help to individuals who are handicapped, disabled or terminally ill -- she is preparing for her big day.

“Her wedding day when she walks down the aisle is going to be an amazing experience for everyone,” Jamie Holmes of Jamie’s Dream Team said.

Holmes and her team are rounding up vendors across the community to make donations, including Mike Jeswald of Avion on the Water.

“Everybody has to give back to the community, and this is such a great opportunity,” he said.

Boyle says that her wedding will have a Cinderella theme, complete with a horse-drawn carriage. She says that she hopes her story will inspire others.

“I think to be an inspiration; I think God wanted me to be on here to show people that you can do anything. Nothing’s impossible,” she said.


Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Swimmer Comes Back from Paralysis

Courtesy Dave Denniston(NEW YORK) -- Swimmer Dave Denniston had it all: Twice a top-five finisher at the Olympic Trials, a World Record Holder, a 15-time All-American and an NCAA National Champion.

That was before a fateful day in 2005 when a sledding accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, changing his life forever.

Denniston grew up in Wyoming with aspirations to become an Olympic athlete.  In high school, he shattered state records and was capturing the attention of college recruiters.

After Denniston graduated from Auburn he tried his success on the international level, competing in the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Trials.  His bids to join the U.S. Olympic team were unsuccessful, though, and after his 2004 attempt he decided to go back to Wyoming and wind down with some sledding, one of his favorite hobbies.

"I went up to the mountain with some friends and started to sled, and I decided to try sledding head first," he recalled.  "On my second try, I went down the mountain, I lost complete control of the sled.  I went into a grove of trees, and instead of hitting the tree with my face, I turned to my back at the very last second."

What came after the impact was the worst thing Denniston could have ever imagined.

"I was starting to spit up blood; the trees were spinning and worst of all... I couldn't feel my legs," he said.

While Denniston sat motionless on the snow, he recalled, an avalanche of possible scenarios flashed through his mind.  "Would I be confined to a wheelchair, or will I actually die?" he asked himself.

Denniston was flown to a nearby hospital, where he received the terrible news.

"It was when I was in the hospital when I found out I was paralyzed from the waist down, and I should get used to life in a wheelchair, because I would have little to no function in my legs," he said.

Denniston knew he still wanted to swim but he didn't know how to begin.  It was a visit from Jimi Flowers, the man who recruited Denniston to Auburn and who was also the head coach of the Paralympic swim team, that got him excited about swimming again.

"I loved being in the water, and I love the sport of swimming.  I also hadn't completely let go of the dream of competing for the United States in the Olympic Games," Denniston said.  "I wanted to be an Olympian, and I quickly saw that being a Paralympian was the exact same."

What followed was years of surgery, recovery, rehabilitation and training.  However, with Flowers' coaching, Denniston's dream became a reality when he made the U.S. swimming team for the 2008 Paralympic games.

"I had an overwhelming rush of pride when they announced my name," he said.  "I was able to hold back tears until I looked back at my parents and sister who were all in tears.  Then I lost it.  It's one of those life highlights I will never forget and was fortunate enough to experience again at the opening ceremonies in Beijing, with Jimi pushing me into the birds nest."

Today, Denniston is the coach of the 2012 Paralympic Resident Swim team in Colorado Springs -- the same position his mentor Flowers had before him.  Flowers died in a fall while climbing a mountain in Aspen in 2009.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Paralyzed Rats Regain Ability to Walk

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Paralyzed rats could walk again after scientists in Switzerland treated their injured spinal cords through a combination of chemical, electrical and physical stimulation.

Gregoire Courtine, the study’s lead author, said the technique would not completely cure a spinal cord injury, but the study gave scientists an idea of how they could combine therapies, each of which have been or are being tested in humans.

“This kind of approach will not make miracles,” Courtine said, “but it’s interesting because it offers new therapeutic avenues for these very traumatic injuries.”

First, the researchers injected the injured rats with chemicals designed to mimic the body’s own cocktail of signals that coordinate movement of the lower body. Five to 10 minutes after the injection, the researchers sent electrical impulses to tiny electrodes placed in the narrow space between the bones of the spine and the nerves of the spinal cord, stoking the spinal cord’s ability to come back after an injury, a quality scientists call neuroplasticity.

The findings were published Thursday in the journal Science.

After a few weeks of the combination of chemicals and electricity, 10 rats were trained to use their paralyzed hind legs with the help of a robotic device for 30 minutes each day, until they could move their legs voluntarily.

After a few weeks of treatment,  the rats sprinted, climbed stairs and avoided obstacles, the study found.

The improvement to the spinal cord was visible, too. The rats’ spinal cords regrew nerves to bridge the gap of their injuries.

The chemical, electrical and physical training therapies have each been individually studied in paralyzed humans. In 2011, electrical stimulation of the spine helped Rob Summers, a paralyzed 25-year-old, move his legs voluntarily.

Neurologists are cautiously encouraged by the results of the study, but many say much more research would be needed before the techniques can be tested in paralyzed humans.

Courtine said it is too early to know whether the approach will work in humans who have spinal cord injuries, and if it does, it is unlikely that a person would completely recover the ability to walk without help.

“But this condition is so traumatic that even a very small improvement would be a major step forward for these patients,” he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Man's Miracle Recovery: From Paralyzed to Helping Others

Cory Johnson/Kremer Johnson Photography(HERMOSA BEACH, Calif.) -- Janne Kouri was told he would never walk again.  Paralyzed from the neck down after a freak accident in the ocean five years ago, Kouri's entire world was completely turned upside down.  But rather than give up, Kouri pushed through with the support of his wife and family, and turned his tragedy into a life's work.

Now, five years after he was told there was no hope for recovery, the 36-year-old can stand up on his own without a walker.

On August 5, 2006, Kouri, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., was playing beach volleyball with some friends when he ran down to the ocean to cool off in between games.  He dove into the waves, crashed his head into a hidden sand-bar, and was instantly paralyzed from the neck down.

"I knew something really bad had happened because I couldn't move anything," said Kouri, who was 31 at the time of the accident.  "There definitely was -- a moment there where I was thinking that that could be my last breath."

Fortunately, an off-duty EMT pulled him ashore and rushed him to the hospital.  Kouri was alive, but a doctor delivered devastating news to his then-girlfriend, Susan.

"[The doctor] looked me right in the eye and said, 'You need to be prepared for him never to walk again,'" Susan, 36, recalled.  "I will never forget that."

Before the accident, Kouri had worked as a director of an online social network and was a force of nature.  At 6' 4" and 285 pounds, he was the star defensive tackle on the Georgetown University football field with NFL prospects and was called "the general" by his friends because of his take-charge attitude.

With his spinal cord fractured in two places, Kouri spent two months in intensive care, developed pneumonia and nearly died twice.

As his health returned, the reality of his paralysis was grim and treatment options were bleak.

Finally, the couple found their ray of hope.  In their research and after months of Susan traveling around the country visiting rehab centers, they discovered Dr. Susan Harkema at the Frazier Rehabilitation Institute in Louisville, Ky.

Harkema helped develop a cutting-edge therapy known as "loco-motor training," which teaches the spinal cord how to control motor functions like walking, through repetitive motion.  The late actor Christopher Reeve was among her first test subjects to utilize the training; the therapy has now helped hundreds of spinal cord injury victims.

After two to three months of training, Kouri had his first milestone -- a little toe wiggle.

Full of hope, Kouri wanted to return to California and continue loco-motor training near his home, but it wasn't available.

That sparked a big idea.  With the help of family, friends, Harkema and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, in 2007, they raised the funds to start NextStep Fitness, a non-profit rehab center in Los Angeles where not only Kouri, but anyone in the community could get loco-motor training at an affordable cost.

The nonprofit wing of their organization has blossomed as well, launching the Wheelchair for a Day Challenge in a nationwide effort to raise awareness about the daily challenges associated with paralysis, and to raise funding to help build additional rehab centers across the country.

Between rounds of rehab, Kouri and Susan turned their tragedy into a future together and got married.

In May 2009, Kouri took his first steps in three years with the assistance of a walker.  And just this past February, Kouri achieved his most recent milestone: standing for the first time, on his own, without his walker.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Paralyzed Rutgers Player Overcoming the Odds

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Eric LeGrand's football career was over in a second ... the second he tackled Malcolm Brown on a kick return at New Jersey's Meadowlands Stadium last October.

"I fell to the ground and my body just went, 'ding,'" he said. "That's all I hear, like my bell was ringing and I -- my body was stuck ... I try to get up but I couldn't."

He couldn't get up because he had broken his neck. LeGrand's mother, Karen LeGrand, was in the stands and said she knew instantly that something was wrong. Not only could LeGrand not move his body, but he struggled to breathe.

[Watch LeGrand's Interview with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi]

"I was like, 'Can I pass out? I may die here,'" he said. "Fear of death, that's the biggest fear that I got because I couldn't breathe the way I was breathing and I couldn't move. ... Laying out on the ground, motionless, not being able to breathe was the hardest part in thinking: Can I die here?"

For seven minutes, his family watched helplessly as trainers tried to help. His body and head were immobilized as he was taken off the field.

LeGrand fractured his C-3 and C-4 vertebrae and, that night, underwent nine hours of emergency surgery to stabilize his spine. At 22, he was paralyzed from the neck down. Doctors gave him a zero to 5 percent chance of regaining neurologic function -- a prognosis his mother never told him.

In the wake of the injury, the outpouring for LeGrand was enormous. As he remained in intensive care, the Rutgers community adopted a single word to show its support -- believe.

"I believe that I will walk one day. I believe it," LeGrand said. "God has a plan for me and I know it's not to be sitting here all the time. I know he has something planned better for me."

That belief has not wavered. Six days after surgery, he first moved his shoulders. By early November, he transferred to a rehabilitation facility less than an hour from the Rutgers campus to begin his recovery. Still breathing on a ventilator when he arrived, he asked doctors to remove it for the first time during Thanksgiving week.

"The doctor said I might be able to breathe for a minute. A minute," he said. "I lasted an hour and a half."

"He went through the night, the next day, and that was it," said his mother. "He was done. He says, 'I don't want it, I don't need it.' And he was breathing on his own just fine."

"Right now," Karen LeGrand said, "I believe he's got sensation everywhere. Everywhere. Everywhere, yes. His arms, his legs, his feet. He has sensation everywhere."

LeGrand now stands for 40 minutes at a time. And when he sits, it's often in front of a computer as he works toward his degree via Skype.

He has a job providing color commentary for Rutgers football games on the radio -- a dream of his since he was a boy.

But LeGrand's legacy lies not just in what he's done for himself. At Rutgers, he's the essence of the team's mantra: believe.

"Believe. Believe. Believe," Karen LeGrand said. "It means we believe that he is going to be OK."

He might just get there. On Saturday, he will be one step closer when he leads the Rutgers' Scarlet Knights onto the field in his wheelchair -- his first trip through the team's entry tunnel since that fateful fall Saturday.

He isn't giving up on making that trip on his own two feet.

"Leading that team out of the tunnel ... oh man ... it brings chills down my spine," he said.

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


Paralyzed Student Walks at Graduation with Computer Brain

Jeffrey Hamilton/Photodisc(BERKELEY, Calif.) -- Walking across the stage at the University of California Berkeley commencement feels especially sweet for Austin Whitney, who was paralyzed in a car accident that severed his spinal cord just below the hip.

Four years ago, the Southern California teen with a 4.0 GPA who loved sports and theater was forced to adapt to life in a wheelchair after he got behind the wheel while drunk and crashed into a tree.

"If somebody told me four years ago that I'd be walking at this graduation, I would have never believed them in a million years," Whitney told ABC News.

But Whitney did just that.  With mechanical braces strapped to his body and motorized joints directed by a computer brain, he triumphantly walked across the stage at commencement -- a moment that reflected more than just the achievement of a four-year college degree.

"Everything over the last four years and all the emotions of it are really going to be climaxed in those two seconds," he said before his big day.

Hospitalized for 41 days after his crash, the incoming college freshman didn't let his paralysis hinder his plans to attend school.  Ten days after being released from the hospital, he was in the classroom at UC Santa Barbara, where he spent his freshman year before transferring to UC Berkeley.

A double major in history and political science, Whitney began working with Homayoon Kazerooni, a professor of mechanical engineering, and a team of graduate students to develop the wearable robotic skeleton that helped him achieve his dream of walking again.

"I stood up in that machine for the first time on my 22nd birthday and that was the first time standing up really in four years," Whitney said.  "I trust the machine an amazing amount.  I know that machine like it is my own legs."

In fact, the team says Austin was so integral in providing feedback in development that they named the device after him.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Paralyzed Bride Makes Good on Promise to Walk Down the Aisle

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(DETROIT) -- Jennifer Darmon walked down the aisle on her wedding day this weekend, which was a particularly moving moment since she's been confined to a wheel chair since a crippling car crash in 2008.

On Saturday, the bride strode to the altar with the help of leg braces and a decorated metal walker.  That short but momentous stroll came after years of intense therapy and a vow she made to ABC's World News back on March 25.

"You know, picturing your wedding, you don't picture rolling down the aisle," she said after she was chosen as the World News Person of the Week.  "You picture the walk with your dad.  It's the most important thing.  I will be walking down the aisle.  It's not an if or a maybe.  It's absolutely going to happen."

Darmon, 28, made good on her promise and said "I do" to Mike Belawetz, 25, this past Saturday.

"It's so nice for everyone to see the end result.  All the work I've put into it over the last couple of years," Darmon told ABC News affiliate WXYZ-TV in Detroit after the ceremony.

Darmon and Belawetz met in 2006 while she was working as a bank teller.  After several visits to her bank, the couple began dating and falling in love.

Then in 2008, while on a road trip with friends, an oncoming car struck their van head-on.  Everyone was able to get out of the vehicle after the crash, except for Darmon, who couldn't move.  Being a paramedic, Belawetz was able to move her from the car.  As soon as he ran his hand down her spine, he knew that his worst fears might be confirmed.

Following a hospital examination, doctors told Darmon she would never walk again.

Undaunted, Darmon endured numerous surgeries and grueling three-hour physical therapy sessions three times a week.  She made the 45-minute drive from her home in Windsor, Canada to the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan in Detroit in her car, which had been modified so she could drive using hand controls.  All the while, she wondered whether this was too much for Belawetz.

Belawetz never left her side, staying through every small step and medical milestone.  He proposed to Darmon on their four-year anniversary as a couple. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Paralyzed Gymnast Walks After 'Frozen Spine' Treatment

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(MIAMI) -- When a double-flip gone awry left gymnast Jorge Valdez, 20, paralyzed with a dislocated neck, doctors feared he would never walk again.  But just seven days after surgeons opted for a still-experimental treatment involving induced hypothermia, Valdez walked out of the hospital.

Valdez was practicing a double flip while making an audition video for the Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil when he misjudged his rotation and landed on his head, dislocating his C6 and C7 vertebrae.

"I was unable to move after that, I couldn't feel my legs.  I could only open and close my hands a little," Valdez, a Miami native, said.  "I was scared.  I've been injured before pretty bad, but nothing this bad."

He was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, where doctors determined he was a candidate for a cooling procedure that is thought to slow spinal cord damage by reducing swelling at the injury site.

Valdez was a good candidate for cooling because he had an isolated injury and he was a healthy guy with no other medical conditions, said Dr. Steven Vanni, a neurosurgeon at the University of Miami, who treated Valdez.  Though he had been able to move his arms after the injury, by the time he was brought to Vanni, he had no motor or sensory function below his neck, making it difficult to predict how much function he would ultimately recover.

"He told my dad he couldn't guarantee that I'd be able to walk again," Valdez says.

After surgeons removed the disc that was pressing on the spine and fixed the dislocations, a catheter cooled by chilled saline was inserted into Valdez's groin.  The chilled catheter cooled down his blood as it passed through it, his internal body temperature down to about 92 degrees Fahrenheit.  He was kept in a medically-induced coma and in that hypothermic state for 48 hours post-operation.

"I woke up and thought it was the day of the surgery [Thursday], when really it was Saturday," Valdez says.  By that Wednesday, he was walking on his own.

Now out of the hospital, Valdez's physical therapy focuses primarily on his hands, where he has some nerve damage.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio