Chennai

Doctors mimic brain signals to spinal cord; help boy get back on his feet

Ten-year-old Eric’s never-say-no attitude has surprised his doctors. Suffering a spinal cord injury that left him a paraplegic, the boy is now on an extensive road to recovery. Thanks to doctors who attempted to mimic brain’s signals to the spinal cord through Stimulation Movement Overground (STIMO).

Hailing from Tuvalu, a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean, Eric took a 20-hour journey across 10,000 km to Chennai last June. He suffered paralysis of the lower half of the body following a fall in February 2019. As a result of the injury to his spinal cord, he developed bladder and bowel incontinence.

At MIOT International, spine surgeons and neuro specialists examined him. “MRI scans showed that he suffered a fracture in D5 of the vertebral column with spinal cord compression. This interrupted signals from the brain to the lower part of his body. We took up his case in the neuro science board and came up with a decision to implant a neuro prosthetic bridge, a treatment called STIMO,” Shankar Balakrishnan, interventional neurologist told reporters on Friday.

STIMO combines three stages of treatment — epidural electrical implantation, neuro modulation and weight-suspended gait training. A small chip with 16 electrodes was surgically placed in the spinal cord below the site of injury. It is connected to a chargeable battery placed in the lower back region under the skin. The battery sends electrical signs to awaken the dormant spinal tissue through a process called epidural stimulation.

Stage two involves activating muscles with the help of technologies such as Electromyography that aids in confirming the accuracy of stimulation. Neurologists with the help of neuro modulation specialists map the electrodes, exploring combinations to obtain different stages of refinement that are mandatory to regain his skills. This is followed by systematic and intensive physiotherapy, he explained.

The results were not immediate, said doctors. “Here, we are trying to create a spinal brain. We are stimulating the spinal cord, moulding it in such a way that it turns into the brain,” P. Sathya, neuro intensivist, said.

“He can now walk on a parallel bar. His legs can make walking-like and cycling movements. It will take a year and a half for him to gain complete movement with training. In the process, he will also gain bowel and bladder control,” Dr. Balakrishnan added. Doctors claimed this was the first successful STIMO in the State.

As he trains for four to five hours a day, Eric cherishes his new-found love for Tamil. While he shyly sings a few lines from actor Dhanush’s “Po nee po” song, he says “Baahubali” before making every leg movement.

Mallika Mohandas, chairman and Prithvi Mohandas, managing director of MIOT International were present.


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Printable version | Sep 28, 2022 1:34:35 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/doctors-mimic-brain-signals-to-spinal-cord-help-boy-get-back-on-his-feet/article30474308.ece