People who suffer from spinal cord injuries are often at risk for other complications and can have a difficult time adjusting to life with paralysis. Jennifer French, who became a quadriplegic when she was 26-years-old after a snowboarding accident, decided to take part in a new research program at the Functional Electrical Stimulation Center in Cleveland. According to Fox News, after receiving implants for the neuroprostheses program, French was able to walk down the aisle at her wedding and is gaining some restored function to her lower extremities.
On Friday the 13th in 1998, French hit a patch of ice as she was snowboarding on a mountain with a group of friends. Surgeons later confirmed that French had suffered a spinal cord injury at the base of her neck, although the injury was incomplete. She lost total control of leg movement and suffered some impairment in her hands, although she could still feel some sensations in her legs and she had basic use of her upper arms.
After a short denial phase, French decided that the best course of action would be to seek ways to stay healthy with her injury. The FES Center started a new research program that attempted to help restore limited muscular function to patient’s lower region. Through implantable neuroprostheses, researchers hope that the technology will allow patients to gain standing and trunk control, along with some restrictive walking.
Despite risks involved with implanting electrodes inside the body, French allowed surgeons to place electrodes in her quads, hamstrings, glutes and lower back. All of the electrodes are complete with leads that help deliver small pulses of current to the muscles via a receiver implanted in the abdomen. Dr. P. Hunter Peckham, the FES Center’s director at the time of French’s enrollment, notes that the role of the electrodes is to artificially “coordinate the action of those muscles together so the action to stand or sit down or to walk has all of them working in concert with another to perform the major body action.
With a small computer control device, French can temporarily provide electrical stimulation to her muscles, allowing her to become more mobile in her every day life. She has become a world-recognized athlete. In the 2012 Paralympics, French brought home the silver in sailing for the U.S.A.
Other people who suffer from spinal cord injuries note that getting involved with sports and activities is crucial to recovery to help build muscle strength. A group of people with spinal cord injuries recently played curling at a fundraiser to help the patients build their independence and have fun.
Researchers hope they will be able to give patients a wireless computer control device in the future to help eliminate the need for protruding wires from the body. French, however, is thankful for the implants since she was able to walk down the aisle on her wedding day: “It was something the technology gave me that I probably would never be able to have otherwise.”