Skip to content

Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Spine Injury Breakthrough: Paralyzed Man Stands, Moves

Paraplegic Man Regains Voluntary Movement With Implanted Device, Rehab

Hard Work Leads to Success continued...

Summers was a 20-year old pitcher for Oregon State's championship team. Late one night in July 2006, he was taking his gym bag out of his car when another car jumped the curb and knocked his legs out from under him. He woke up unable to move his legs or trunk, or to control his anal sphincter or bladder.

Eventually he found his way to TIRR Research Center in Houston, the same rehab center now treating Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Harkema, at TIRR for a visit, met Summers and invited him to the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center, where she is director.

Summers became the first of a planned five patients to receive the epidural stimulation device, originally designed and FDA-approved for pain relief. California Institute of Technology engineer Joel Burdick, PhD, adapted the device for spinal cord treatment. Jonathan Hodes, MD, chair of the University of Louisville department of neurosurgery, implanted the device into Summers' spine.

But it wasn't all the doctors' doing. Before getting the implant, Summers practiced trying to move for over 26 months in 170 training sessions. He never gave up -- but did not move until receiving the implant. On his third try, when Harkema's team found just the right level and pattern of electric stimulation, he was able to stand with only minimal support for balance.

Seven months later, he became able to move his legs on command, although he can neither stand nor move when the device is turned off. It's not designed to be left on all day, but that hasn't dimmed the young athlete's determination.

"Being able to move my ankles, my toes, my knees -- there are not enough words to describe how I felt after not having anything for four years," Summers said. "It was a dream and now it is a reality. I am going to work until I achieve all my goals. I have a long list: First to stand completely independently, then to take steps in a functional manner, and eventually to play baseball again."

Summers' treatment and hard work had an unexpected benefit: He regained control of his bowels and bladder, and told his doctors that he had regained sexual function.

"Not only has this given me more quality of life, but I have the confidence to get out in world and live my life," he said.

Today on WebMD

nerve damage
Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
senior woman with lost expression
Know the early warning signs.
 
Close up of eye
12 culprits that affect your ability to focus.
medical marijuana plant
What is it used for?
 
senior man
Article
brain research briefing
Article
 
Syringe
Article
Vaccine and needle
VIDEO
 
mans hands on laptop keyboard
Article
brain illustration stroke
Slideshow
 
most common stroke symptoms
Article
Parkinsons Disease Medications
Article