ATLANTA (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Every year, spinal cord injuries force more than 11,000 people into a wheelchair. In the most serious cases, just taking a breath on their own is impossible. Patients often rely on cumbersome mechanical ventilators to stay alive, but a new device may free patients from the ventilators and help them breathe on their own.
A year ago, paramedics rushed Jenny Sorenson to the ER. She thought she was having a heart attack.
“Six days later, I was paralyzed from the neck down,” Sorenson told Ivanhoe.
A rare condition cut off blood to Sorenson’s spine. She depended on a ventilator to stay alive.
“I have to have someone with me 24 hours a day just to make sure I can breathe,” Sorenson said.
That could change with diaphragm pacing stimulation, or DPS. Sorenson had one implanted three months ago. Electrodes in the diaphragm connect to an external unit that works like a pacemaker.
“We pace the diaphragm because that individual may not be able to pace their own diaphragm,” Brock Bowman, M.D., Associate Medical Director of the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ga., told Ivanhoe. “We pace it externally.”
Sorenson’s learning to breathe on her own, hoping she can get rid of the ventilator for good.
“Oh, it’d be awesome,” she said. “That’s my goal.”
In a clinical trial, 50 percent of the patients were able to eliminate the need for mechanical ventilation. Patients using DPS had less damage to their lungs and a lower risk of infection and pneumonia.
“It’s a huge deal to breathe naturally just like everyone else,” Don Pollard told Ivanhoe.
Pollard has been paralyzed since he was one. His ventilator is replaced by a controller, the stimulator in his chest, and a new burst of energy.
Doctors say the DPS system is healthier for patients than the traditional ventilator system. Long-term, a ventilator can be damaging to the lungs, and the tubes increase the risk of infection. The device is FDA-approved.
Click here for additional research on Breathing On Their Own
Click here for Ivanhoe’s full-length interview with Dr. Bowman
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