Pediatric center to offer novel rehabilitation approach for spinal cord injury

Kennedy Krieger Institute today opens the doors of its International Center for Spinal Cord Injury, the world’s first center focused on Rehabilitation and restoration for children with paralysis. The Center’s director, Dr. John McDonald, was the lead neurologist whose pioneering techniques helped the late actor Christopher Reeve to regain significant movement and sensation. The same novel therapies that produced remarkable results in Reeve will be applied to children at the new Center.

Dr. McDonald’s advanced restoration therapies (RT) have revolutionized the therapy and research surrounding injuries once diagnosed as untreatable. Anecdotal evidence suggests that patients can benefit significantly from these therapies, even years after an injury. The Center will advance these promising therapies while helping children with spinal cord injuries work toward achieving their personal milestones, from feeling the touch of a hand to recovering independent movement.

While adults can benefit from RT, children may be especially responsive to these techniques because their nervous systems are still developing and they are less gravitationally challenged. Yet because most spinal cord injuries occur in adults, the vast majority of programs are designed for adults and then modified for children. The new Center’s interdisciplinary staff specializes in tailoring treatment plans for children’s unique physical, developmental, educational and social needs.

“Our clinical approaches have shown that function in individuals who are paralyzed can actually be restored through patterned physical activity such as cycling or walking movements,” said Dr. John McDonald, Director of the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury. “Expanding this research through a world-class organization like Kennedy Krieger helps realize the dream of improving the lives of children around the world who have spinal cord injury and paralysis.”

Advanced restoration therapies use methods such as Functional Electric Stimulation (FES) to help patients with paralysis “exercise” muscles through activities such as riding a specially equipped bicycle with the help of computer-driven electrical impulses. Studies have proven that such activity improves patients’ quality of life by promoting overall physical integrity: improving cardiovascular health; preventing Skin Breakdown; and reducing the incidence of Osteoporosis, scoliosis and other skeletal disorders. These therapies are now being studied for their potential in helping individuals recover neurological function such as sensation and movement.

Early in Reeve’s treatment, many scientists were skeptical about these methods, calling his recovery of sensation and movement a near miracle or scientific anomaly. But as additional cases have verified the positive effects of these methods in other patients, scientists across the world are reconsidering their assumption that recovery from a spinal cord injury is impossible once two years have passed.

“Kennedy Krieger’s expertise in pediatric neurological disorders makes it an ideal institution for this promising approach to helping children with spinal cord injuries,” said Gary Goldstein, President and CEO of Kennedy Krieger Institute. “With our cutting-edge therapies and Dr. McDonald at the helm, Kennedy Krieger is proud to be at the forefront of spinal cord research and restoration for the benefit of children around the world.”

About the Kennedy Krieger Institute

Internationally recognized for improving the lives of children and adolescents with disorders and injuries of the brain and spinal cord, Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD serves more than 11,000 children each year through inpatient and day treatment programs, outpatient clinics, home and community services and school-based programs. Kennedy Krieger provides a wide range of services for children with developmental concerns mild to severe, and is home to a team of investigators who are contributing to the understanding of how disorders develop and pioneering new interventions and earlier diagnosis. For more information on Kennedy Krieger Institute, visit For more information on the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury, visit

About Dr. John McDonald

John W. McDonald, M.D., Ph.D. is director of the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at Kennedy Krieger Institute. Prior to joining Kennedy Krieger, Dr. McDonald founded and served as director of the Spinal Cord Injury Program at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis from 1998-2004. His work has been recognized by the National Institutes of Health, the International Neurotrauma Society, and American Academy of Neurology among other organizations. Dr. McDonald also actively leads industry multi-center clinical trials in spinal cord injury repair, having completed six trials to date including the first human stem cell transplantation study with the company Diacrin. In addition to the completion of an ongoing project examining the efficacy of advanced restoration therapy in 60 adult patients with spinal cord injuries, Dr. McDonald and his team at the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury will soon launch a large prospective multi-center trial evaluating the efficacy of these therapies in pediatric patients in collaboration with the Philadelphia Shriner’s Hospital.

Contact: Colleen O’Malley
202-955-6222 x2581
Kennedy Krieger Institute

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