Posted: November 5, 2018
Jered Chinnock hasn’t been able to walk for years. But he is walking now. What changed?
The spinal cord controls our ability to walk. Mr. Chinnock’s spine is damaged. So scientists placed an electrical implant in Mr. Chinnock’s spinal cord. And Mr. Chinnock spent months working with his legs. He isn’t cured. But the implant in his back zaps his injured spinal cord. Because of it, he can walk. With the help of a rolling walker, he walked about the length of a football field!
How does the implant work? Scientists aren’t sure. But they have a guess. They think the nerves below the place the spine is injured are still living and could wake up if zapped with electricity. After lots of work in rehabilitation, rusty connections between nerves can start to make connections again. Eventually, they can receive simple commands from the brain. The spine can relearn to do things. It won’t work as well as it did before. But it will work a little bit.
For someone who hasn’t walked in years, a little bit is a lot! “It isn't something where I just leave my wheelchair behind and away I go," says Mr. Chinnock. But he hopes someday he will get to leave his wheelchair behind—even if it’s just for a short walk to the refrigerator.
Spinal stimulators like this one were first invented to treat pain. But something surprising happened when patients used them. Suddenly, people who had been completely paralyzed could wiggle their toes! They could move their legs! They could stand! But they couldn’t walk. Mr. Chinnock is one of the first people to do that.
Mr. Chinnock became paralyzed in 2013. He was involved in a snowmobile accident. He could not move or feel anything below the middle of his back. At first, trainers moved his knees and hips to help him stand. But eventually, his spine and brain learned to work together to move his legs again . . . with the help of a zap.