When a devastating snowmobile accident left a young man paralyzed from the waist down in 2013, he thought he would never be able to move his legs again. Five years later, the man has learned to stand up on his legs and walk again, thanks to an electrical stimulation device implanted in his spine.
The progress was made as a result of a groundbreaking research collaboration between the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), as reported by the scientific journal Nature Medicine.
29-year-old Jered Chinnock, who is an avid bow hunter, has made phenomenal progress after two years of spinal cord stimulation and physical therapy that he received at Mayo Clinic. In one of his regular rehabilitation visits, he walked 102 meters – which is about the length of a football field – with the help of a front-wheeled walker.
Dr Kendall Lee, the research’s co-principal investigator and neurosurgeon and director of Mayo Clinic’s Neural Engineering Laboratories, called Chinnock’s progress “absolutely tremendous,” and said that despite being in its early stages, the research is important because “the patient’s own mind, thought, was able to drive movement in his legs.”
Giving a ray of hope to paralyzed patients, Dr Kendall further added that the results of the research show that “networks of neurons below a spinal cord injury still can function after paralysis,” as The Independent quoted.
While talking to the Mayo Clinic, Chinnock happily expressed how the treatment has helped him in a lot of ways.
“My sitting balance has gotten a lot better. I can shoot my bow a lot better now because I have more trunk support. My standing has gotten a lot better; I can stand unassisted with a walker. [And] walking on the treadmill has gotten a lot better.”
But the success story doesn’t end with Chinnock. Two other patients, who are also paralyzed from the waist down, have been undergoing rehabilitation therapy at the University of Louisville and have shown substantial progress.
Kelly Thomas, a 23-year-old Florida native who injured her spine in a truck accident, has been the first paraplegic patient in the world to be able to take steps under her own power after months of epidural stimulation and rehab.
Similarly, 35-year-old Jeff Marquis, who suffered a spinal cord injury worse than Thomas’, has also shown incredible improvement.
“I think the important aspect of [the research] is that recovery is possible, and the ability to stand without physical assistance and walk over ground is a possibility now,” Susan Harkema, one of the lead researchers on the project and a professor in the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Louisville, said.
“It’s phenomenal. This new knowledge is giving us the tools to develop new strategies and tools for recovery in people with chronic spinal injuries,” she told CNN.