U of L research has paralyzed patients learning to stand and walk

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- On Sept. 29, 2011, Jeff Marquis was out biking with his roommate. It was the day his life changed forever.

“I was considering doing this jump or not, never really decide if I was going to do it," Marquis said. "I went over it without committing to it and just fell on the landing. I landed right on my head and broke my neck.”

First he couldn’t breathe. Then he realized he couldn't feel the rest of his body.

“I had a feeling it was bad right away,” he said.

Marquis was paralyzed from the chest down. Two years before his accident in Montana, The Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at the University of Louisville had started epidural stimulation. Marquis was chosen to be part of the study in 2014 and moved to Louisville to have surgery to implant a device that would re-energize his spinal cord.

“You kind of hope for the world but try to manage your expectations,” Marquis recalled his feelings before the surgery.

Dr. Claudia Angeli with the Spinal Cord Injury Research Center, also the senior researcher at Frazier Rehab Institute, said with daily locomotor training, the spinal cord is able to reorganize.

“So after the injury, the spinal cord loses the ability to integrate all the signals that it was used to receiving before,” Angeli said. “It's raising that excitability a little bit more. "

The device is implanted in the lower back, and movement can come back immediately when it’s turned on.

“It's like a buzzing, pins and needles," Marquis said. "When they did that, it was just a second here and there, and it felt like it was traveling around my body, because different sites on my spinal cord were getting stimulated."

Maquis first noticed feeling and movement in his abs. After about two years of therapy and hard work, he was able to stand and take steps.

“It was like that was cool, but we have to get down to business,” Marquis said.

Five days a week, Marquis spends hours working on his motor control and balance.

“I learned very quickly when we first started this project to never say never," he said. "And we had many surprises along the way, many good surprises,” Angeli said.

Now Marquis hopes to keep moving forward and sharing his story for when someone else comes face to face with a life-changing day.

“See what this thing can do and how it can help other people,” Marquis said.

If the device is removed, Marquis will lose the function he's regained. The device can also be turned off when not in use.

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