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Defying the Impossible: 3 Sources of Hope for Spinal Cord Injuries

“She will never be independent.”

“There is nothing we can do.”

“Your son will never walk again.”

Each day, spinal cord injury survivors and their families hear painful prognoses that leave little room for hope…but according to an article from Freethink, there are breakthroughs happening all around us that could change everything.

Here are 3 reasons to hold onto hope for the future of SCI care and treatment.

Science is Catching Up

“The breakthrough was recognizing that the spinal cord is not just a conduit but a complex driver of the nervous system in its own right.”

Science today is leaps and bounds ahead of the traditional notion that a “complete” spinal cord injury leaves no room for returning mobility. For years, we believed that the spinal cord was “like a telephone wire running down our backs,” conveying and translating messages to our body. Today, we know that the brain and spinal cord might have overlapping functions which significantly impact motion and body control.

Could the spinal cord handle some processes and functions all on its own? Understanding the complex brain/spine/body relationship is a critical piece of the puzzle.

"This Study Truly Changed My Life"

an individual walking in a frame with their wheelchair behind them

“One minute I was walking with the trainer’s assistance and, while they stopped, I continued walking on my own.”

At the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at the University of Louisville, surgically-implanted stimulators were able to return walking capability to two out of four participants with complete spinal cord injuries. All four were able to stand independently. Prior to the study, the participants had been living with SCI for at least two years and had no ability to walk, stand, or move their own legs.

The study included not just stimulation but also “rigorous training with weight assistance and treadmills.” Future research in this area could either involve a stimulator implant procedure followed by such training or a training regimen that ends with an implant.

One of the concerns of implant SCI support: the high potential cost of such technology. We believe that hope is priceless, and we hope that fundraising with Help Hope Live will help to put “impossible” mobility outcomes within reach for SCI families.

“It has provided me with a hope that I didn’t think was possible.”

Movement That's Skin Deep

Surface-level stimulators could help to combat both the high cost of implant surgery and the potential health risks. An ongoing study is drawing attention to the possibility of using exterior stimulation paired with activity-based rehabilitation to improve muscle movement and body control after SCI.

Surface stimulators could also give people with SCI a chance to test-drive the process of regaining mobility before they commit to a surgical implant.

“If the results are similar…electrodes could be a safer and cheaper alternative.”

Becoming Part of SCI's Future

“Rodreick cautions people against getting caught up in the sensational this-has-people-walking, spinal-stimulation-is-the-cure narrative.”

It’s not just about walking. Surprising scientists, study participants with SCI cited bowel function, not walking or standing, as the most impactful potential improvement that stimulation could bring to them. Researchers hope to continue to involve people with SCI directly in every facet of the exploration process, learning what survivors care about, want, and need.

Scientists are dedicated to their work, and so is every study participant. People with SCI who choose to participate in trials and research often take on significant personal risks with the hope of bringing greater comfort, mobility, and control to the entire SCI community. Their participation is difficult, requires significant time sacrifices, and may not result in any personal gain. But…

“…what we guarantee you is that we will learn something. Something that will advance our knowledge about human beings and spinal cord injury.”

Written by Emily Progin