U of L spinal cord researchers help paralyzed Louisville man learn to stand again
The combination of training and electrical stimulation that contributed to his road to recovery.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Ten years ago, Andrew Meas was in a motorcycle accident that left him in a wheelchair paralyzed from the chest down.
But with the help of researchers at the University of Louisville, the 38-year-old father is learning to stand and move his legs.
The injury to the c7 vertebrae left Meas unable to move his arms and legs and struggling to control his bowls, body temperature and blood pressure.
Doctors at the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center implanted an epidural stimulator in Meas, which delivered electrical signals to the spine. That paired with intense, sometimes twice daily training sessions slowly gave Meas back some of his function even without the stimulator.
Dr. Susan Harkema and her colleagues started working with Meas in a more intense study almost three years ago.
"What we're figuring out is how to tell the spinal cord what we want it to do even after a severe disconnection from the brain," Dr. Harkema said.
The researchers published an article in Scientific Reports that details the long-term activity-based training that used spinal cord epidural stimulation or scES. The development of the therapy was funded in part by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. He is the late actor paralyzed in a horse riding accident. Reeve was best-known for playing Superman on the big screen.
Therapists started the treatment for Meas by placing electrodes on his legs and back to stimulate and build up the muscles. He eventually was able to use the stimulation to stand with the help of others. And now, he can stand and move without the electrical stimulation.
"It's just a moment of hope, not just for myself but for the entire spinal cord injury world," Mesa said. "It just kind of gives you the vision of the future, of what's next."
Meas was one of four participants in an earlier research that involved sending electrical signals delivered to motor neurons in the spine through an implanted device. After a nine-month training program in the lab, he continued activity-based stand training at home for the next year. When he returned to the lab, therapists tried a different training protocol that showed significant gains in the control he has in his legs.
Dr. Harkema says the research opens up new opportunities to use therapies even in the most severe injuries. Authors of the study aren't sure why Meas has recovered so much mobility. They theorize that his body may have allowed axons above the point of his spinal injury to sprout below the lesion. Or the activity-based training with the stimulation could have remodeled neurons and connections in the spinal cord.
Researchers also credit Meas and his extraordinary effort and focus for his remarkable progress. He's still living life day to day in a wheelchair for now, but researchers say for spinal injury patients everywhere this provides tremendous hope.
Copyright 2017 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.