With rehab and a jolt to the spinal cord, paralyzed patients take steps again

Two research teams reported Monday that three patients paralyzed from the waist down were able to take steps again after weeks of rehabilitation and the implantation of a device that zaps the spinal cord in precise ways, fueling hopes that some sensory and motor function may be regained even when it appears they have been completely lost.

“The fact that at one time, it was thought there would be no motor or sensory function in these patients — what is returning is just extraordinary,” said Peter Wilderotter, CEO of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, which has previously funded some of the researchers involved in the new studies. “It signals that the old dogma is being reversed and perhaps this isn’t as intractable as it was once believed.”

Past research has shown that a combination of rehab and electrical stimulation can help some people paralyzed from spinal cord injuries intentionally move their legs while lying on their sides. But these patients — a 29-year-old man in one study out of the Mayo Clinic, and a 34-year-old man and 23-year-old woman in a study from the University of Louisville — achieved new milestones. They were able to control their legs and walk with only the help of walkers or crutches and some balance assistance.

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