Entries in Quadriplegic (4)


Quadriplegic Moves Fingers After Nerve-Stealing Surgery

Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis(ST. LOUIS) -- A 71-year-old quadriplegic man can move his fingers after surgeons "stole" healthy nerves from his arm and rerouted them to his hand, according to a new case study.

The man, whose name has not been released, crushed his spinal cord at the C7 vertebrae in the base of his neck in a 2008 motor vehicle accident.  The injury severed the nerve circuits that would send signals from his brain to the muscles in his hands, but it spared nearby nerves that could be coaxed into taking over.

"It's called nerve transfer surgery," said Dr. Ida Fox, assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Washington University in St. Louis.  "It's borrowing a nerve that's still working and displacing it into a nerve that isn't working."

People with C7 spinal cord injuries can't move their hands, but they can move their shoulders, elbows and wrists, thanks to nerves that originate above the injury.  To tap into those healthy circuits, Fox and colleagues cut the nerve that controlled the man's brachialis, an arm muscle that helps bend the elbow.  They then attached it to the non-working nerve projecting out to his hand with a tiny stitch the size of a hair.

"We had to sacrifice something that's 'sacrificable,'" said Fox, describing how the biceps and other elbow-bending muscles would pick up the brachialis' slack.

Over six months, the nerve, which is no thicker than a strand of angel hair pasta, grew six inches along the old non-working nerve, reaching the hand muscles at the end.  And with intense physical therapy, the man learned to move his fingers with the nerve that once bent his arm.

"The brain has to be trained to think, 'OK, I used to bend my elbow with this nerve, and now I use it to pinch,'" said Fox.  "We're not changing any of the biomechanics; we're just changing the wiring.  So it's more of a mental game that patients have to play with themselves."

The case study, published Tuesday in the Journal of Neurosurgery, could give surgeons a tricky tool to help spinal cord injury patients hold onto some independence, Fox said.

"These patients have figured out very clever adaptive strategies to get around the fact that their hands don't do what they want them to do.  But they want to be able to do things more quickly without help," said Fox, adding that patients frequently say they wish they could eat without assistive devices.  "This makes stealing that brachialis muscle worth it."

One year after the procedure, the man is able to feed himself bite-size pieces of food.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Quadriplegic Able to Touch Girlfriend, Thanks to Robotic Arm

Chad Baker/Thinkstock(PITTSBURGH) -- It’s a moment that many men take for granted, but for Tim Hemmes, touching his girlfriend’s hand was something he couldn’t do for seven years.

Hemmes, 30, was in a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down in 2004.  Although he considered himself “broken” after the accident, he always held out hope he would someday be able to experience everyday movements once again.

Back in August, Hemmes took part in a 30-day trial for an experimental new technology.  Doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center gave Hemmes a robotic arm that he could control using his mind.

Through an electrode implanted on the surface of his brain, Hemmes used his thoughts to move a ball on the computer screen, which in turn, moved the arm.

Just a few days after the surgery, after a lot of intense concentration and brain training, he was able to high-five a researcher and then share a tender moment with his girlfriend.

“Everybody cheered when I touched the researcher,” Hemmes said. “What was I feeling? That word doesn’t exist. It was just pure emotion running through me. Then my girlfriend told me to hold her hand. I have never been able to reach out to her or rub her hand.”

“We were thrilled with the progress he made during the trial,” said Dr. Michael Boninger, director of the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute and professor and chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.  “When we have a patient who has a spinal cord injury or a high-level amputation, the hardest thing is to enable them to control a device.”

The technology is in its very early stages, Boninger said.

“I think the potential here in seeing [Hemmes] and his determination, and how his face lit up when he touched someone is an amazing thing,” he said. “This technology has the potential to be transformative.”

Hemmes hopes he can continue progressing toward his goal, which he says is “100 percent recovery.” While it may not have been his arm that touched his girlfriend, it was his brain that controlled the movements.

“I have to get my arms back,” he said. “I have to hug my daughter and hold her one more time.  The last person I felt before my accident was my daughter.  She was 18 months old at the time, and I laid her down to sleep.”

He wants to tell others who have suffered similar injuries that they should never give up.

“I believe this could help, and I believe there is hope.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Brainy Bodysuit Could Help Quadriplegics Walk

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(DURHAM, N.C.) -- Scientists are one step closer to creating a bodysuit that could allow people paralyzed by spinal cord injuries to move, feel and regain their independence.

An international team of neuroscientists and engineers has created a system that allowed monkeys to move a virtual hand using only their brains, and then get sensory feedback from the hand to fine-tune their control.

“This is the first demonstration of a brain-machine-brain interface that establishes a direct, bidirectional link between a brain and a virtual body,” Miguel Nicolelis, co-director of the Duke Center for Neuroengineering and senior author of the study published in Nature said in a statement. “It’s almost like creating a new sensory channel through which the brain can resume processing information that cannot reach it anymore through the real body and peripheral nerves.”

The body’s nerves are like electrical wires. A spinal cord injury severs the wires that send movement signals from the brain to the muscles as well as those that send sensory signals, like touch and pain, from the skin up to the brain. So even though the brain and skin sensors are working properly, the signals are blocked. But brain-machine-brain interface technology could help quadriplegics bypass the circuit break to regain their mobility and their sense of touch.

“We hope that in the next few years this technology could help to restore a more autonomous life to many patients who are currently locked in without being able to move or experience any tactile sensation of the surrounding world,” Nicolelis said.

That tactile sensation is crucial for modifying movements depending on the environment, like adjusting a step on rough terrain or the grip on a fragile glass.

Restoring mobility and independence in quadriplegics using brain-machine-brain interface technology is the main goal of the Walk Again Project, an international consortium headquartered at the Duke Center for Neuroengineering. The team hopes to carry out its first public demonstration of the revolutionary bodysuit during the opening game of the 2014 FIFA Soccer World Cup in Brazil.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Quadriplegic Begs to Die, But Hospital Refuses

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ANTIOCH, Ill.) -- For the last 18 months, Dan Crews has been waging a battle to die -- a battle that he is losing.

For the last 24 years -- since he was paralyzed at age three in a car accident -- Crews has been a quadriplegic, able to speak and eat, but not breathe on his own.

"Just imagine having your arms and legs strapped down 24 hours a day, seven days a week and not being able to do anything about it and not going anywhere," said the 27-year-old, who lives with his mother in Antioch, Ill.

"I have no friends," Crews told ABC News. "I have no education. No education prospects. No job prospects. I have no love prospects. All I want is to no longer live like this."

The Supreme Court ruled a decade ago that a person can refuse medical treatment -- provided they are competent. And that is the biggest hurdle for Crews.

The head psychiatrist at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, where Crews has received most of his treatment since he was airlifted from the accident, says he is depressed and that overrides his ability to make a life or death decision.

The hospital did not return calls for comment, but medical records obtained by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel revealed that psychiatrists and mental health professionals have ruled Crews is depressed and must be treated before they will agree to such an irrevocable step.

Crews is now on antidepressants, but has refused psychiatric care. When he tried to starve himself, doctors threatened to use a feeding tube and he relented. But he hasn't changed his mind about dying.

An estimated five to 10 percent of spinal cord injury patients contemplate suicide, six times higher than in the general population, according to the Kessler Institute in New Jersey, one of the nation's top rehabilitation centers. It treated the late actor Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed in a riding accident.

"Quality of life is determined more by support and reintegration into the community rather than level of severity or injury," said Loran C. Vocaturo, Kessler's director of neuropsychology. "Paraplegics don't do better than quads. It's more about the perception of their health status and level of care giving."

But, said Youngner, "there is a difference between being depressed and unhappy. Clinical depression is an ethical diagnosis and a checklist of symptoms. If people are taking the position he is depressed, he has no chance."

And that is precisely the case with Crews, who prays every day that he will die.

He doubts the hospital will reverse its decision -- ever.

"They have been screwing with me and destroying my life," he said. "Unless someone breaks into my house and kills me or there's a drive-by shooting where I live, I can't win this fight."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio