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Spinal stimulation study giving paralyzed patients hope for voluntary movement


March 08, 2019 07:05 PM

People paralyzed from a serious injury are being given an opportunity many thought they’d lost for good.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Hennepin Healthcare are helping them regain voluntary movement and so much more.

About seven years ago, Sandra Mulder was enjoying Mother’s Day with her family.

“We had just been at church and we just came home and we decided to go on a motorcycle ride,” said Sandra Mulder.

But on that ride she hit gravel and crashed.

“I could move my arms but I couldn’t move my legs and I just couldn’t understand it,” she said. Mulder, who is paralyzed, is now participating in this study.

Since then, Mulder has adjusted to life in a wheelchair. But being paralyzed didn’t mean giving up hope of one day moving her legs and toes.

“We just started researching and starting looking at what we can do to make my life as it is better,” Mulder said.

What she found was spinal cord stimulation research happening with the University of Minnesota and Hennepin Healthcare.

“In our first two patients which is what we just published we found some incredible results,” said Dr. David Darrow, lead investigator with the study.

The way it works is electrodes are surgically implanted along the spinal cord of a patient who’s had a severe injury, even from many years ago. Then, it’s connected to an implantable battery made by Abbott.

“We know patients want new therapies out and we think this may be a viable first step,” Dr. Darrow said. “If we can deliver a 10 percent improvement, that’s our goal right now.”

“That was exciting, it was like okay this is happening within 24 hours of surgery, what’s going to be next,” Mulder said.

So far, of the seven spinal cord injury patients that doctors have worked on, 6 of them have seen movement.

But it’s more than just restoring voluntary movement. Doctor David Darrow tells 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the surgery also improves clients cardiovascular, bowel, and bladder functions. He adds, this research coupled with rehabilitation could help someone one day walk again.

“We think by starting with spinal cord stimulation restoring some movement and then getting going with rehabilitation may be the best paradigm,” Dr. Darrow said.

“If I could get 5 to 10 percent better, it’s been worth it and I have,” Mulder said.

For Mulder, she says even standing for 30 seconds at a time would change her life. Regardless, she plans to keep a positive attitude.

“There’s a lot to life, there’s a lot that I miss but there’s a lot to look forward to, too,” Mulder said.

For more information on this research and the surgery, click here.

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