Catastrophic accidents happen here in Indiana and Illinois, whether they involve a fall on a construction site; a distracted driving car crash; or being hit by a semi truck on the Borman Expressway (or anywhere else in our part of the country — those big rigs are everywhere).
Lives are changed — not just the life of the accident victim, but also the lives of their families and loved ones.
We’ve discussed how horrific these accident injuries can be: broken backs, fractured necks, even wounds to nervous systems alone, can result in a loss of movement and control of arms, legs, and other parts of the body. See, “Spinal Cord Injuries: Tragic Result of Serious Accidents” and “New Research Study: Getting Rehab Fast for Spinal Cord Injuries is Important for Accident Victims.”
Accident victims who face a life of dealing with the aftermath of a severe spinal cord injury must adjust to a new way of living — as will their families and loved ones. Pain and suffering may be part of their everyday existence. They may have to learn to maneuver with a wheelchair or crutches. They may or may not be able to live independently. Some victims face the adversity of being unable to dress themselves, to feed themselves, or even to regain bladder function.
Considering that these victims are innocent of any wrongdoing and that their life has been devastated in mere minutes due to an accident that was the fault of another can be beyond frustrating. It can be infuriating — and spur a zealous incentive to demand justice that is fast and swift for the spinal cord victim and their families.
Personal injury law provides for accident claims to be pursued, and gives the victim a means to make those responsible for the accident accountable for what they have caused. Sadly, the truth is that justice here is limited to the medical solutions available to the spinal cord victim at the time.
So it’s exciting to learn that there are new advancements on the horizon that may help spinal cord victims in ways that we have only been able to dream about in the past. These include:
1. Brain-Training Machines
A new study published in the medical journal Scientific Reports and promoted recently on CNN reveals that there are new technologies on the horizon that bring new hope even to accident victims who have suffered from paraplegic injuries for several years now.
This new advancement is called “brain-training” or “assisted technology” and it involves things that we usually see only in movies — virtual reality systems and robotics. Amazing stuff, taken from science fiction and placed into therapy rooms and medical clinics.
Specifically, a team headed up by Professor Miguel A. Nicolelis of Duke University have been able to train spinal cord injury patients who were paraplegic to WALK by using something called a “brain computer interface” together with an “Occulus Rift virtual reality device” and a robotic exoskeleton.
Remember the movie Robo-Cop? It’s not too far off from what these researchers are demonstrating now, as a real world application.
What does the Brain Training Machine Do? First, the paraplegic accident victim is connected to a device that measures their brain activity. It’s done with a kind of cap filled with wires that monitors what their brain is doing.
Next, the patient has an exoskeleton placed on their body, which is electronically connected to the brain cap gizmo. After that’s in place, the spinal cord victim is asked to watch a screen where there is a virtual avatar being shown. The patient is asked to look at the visual avatar, imagine that it is himself (or herself), and then imagine that the avatar is walking.
As the patient imagines that they are walking by looking at the avatar on the screen, their brain cap device is monitoring what their brain is doing, and sending electronic signals back to the brain from the device. The connection here? The brain machine will result in the exoskeleton moving as a result of the patient imagining the avatar to be walking.
And since the exoskeleton is connected to the patient’s body, their body does move. Which also sends signals to the brain that a body part is moving in conjunction with all this looping feedback.
Experiments have been going on for a year or more now — and people who had been told they would never walk again are experiencing feeling in their legs as well as moving their limbs spontaneously (without the gizmo attached).
One patient, a woman who has been paralyzed for over a decade and could not stand much less take a step has been able to walk again thanks to this Brain-Training Machine, with the help of a walker and braces. She’s no longer attached to the Brain-Training machine with its exoskeleton. She’s doing it herself, moving her own limbs. Amazing.
Imagine what this can mean to future accident victims here in Indiana and Illinois who suffer severe spinal cord injuries!!!
2. Stem Cell Treatment
Another development in spinal cord injury research deals with stem cell treatment, and using human embryonic stem cells to replace damaged portions of the victim’s spinal cord and nervous system.
Here, for instance, stem cells were involved in an Indian research study of 226 patients who suffered serious spinal cord injuries. Over a period of time, stem cells were periodically injected into the damaged spinal cord. Between introductions of the stem cells, the patients continued to have occupational therapy and physiotherapy.
According to the study, “dramatic changes” were felt by all the participants each time there was an introduction of the stem cells (each “phase” of the process). By the end of the third phase, 70% of the spinal cord injury victims had improved “at least one ASIA grade.”
One example of this treatment working comes from Great Britain, where a British man flew to Thailand for stem cell treatment of his spinal cord injuries and is now able to walk with the help of a walker.
However, the stem cell treatment for spinal cord injuries remains in the testing stages here in the United States. It’s a controversial procedure not yet available here.
New treatment for spinal cord injuries is an exciting development not only in the medical field but for those who represent accident victims in personal injury cases and know firsthand how much these miracles are needed for accident victims who suffer serious spinal cord injuries. This is great news.
Hopefully, spinal cord victims in Indiana and Illinois will be able to walk again — and in the not-too-far-off future! Be careful out there!