Researchers are using neurotechnology to instantly give patients some mobility back after they suffer strokes.
Almost 800,000 people annually suffer strokes in the U.S.—one person every 40 seconds—and 140,000 will die from them. Some people will fully recover, but many will live with a lifetime of serious disability, including lasting deficits in the ability to move their arms, legs and hands.
“I was 22 years old, and I had a stroke,” said Heather Rendulic.
Four more would follow.
“The fifth and final one was a massive stroke; the left side of my body was paralyzed,” Rendulic said. “I live one-handed in a two-handed world.”
For eight years, Rendulic lost the ability to move her left arm and hand, until she became the first person to enroll in a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center study on using electricity to reconnect her brain to her arm.
“Think of it as the electrical wires between the brain and the rest of the body are cut from the stroke,” said Dr. Peter Gerszten a neurological surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
By implanting two thin neuro electrodes on the top of the spinal cord in the neck area, neurosurgeons can reconnect the signal.
“So, it allows the patient to communicate, once again, between the brain and the rest of the body,” Gerszten said.
Rendulic said it, “feels kinda like a tickle.”
Within minutes, Rendulic’s brain had found a new way of getting impulses to her muscles.
“Even at night, when she went home and the device was turned off, she continued to improve,” Gerszten said.
“It was just so amazing ’cause I was moving my arm and hand in ways that I hadn’t in almost a decade,” Rendulic said.
The trial lasted for four weeks and Rendulic’s implant was removed. She says as soon as it’s FDA approved, she wants it.
“I would be lining up at,” she said. “I’d be the first one at the door.”
This technology is already FDA approved to treat chronic pain. In future generations, the device will not need to be removed.
Researchers hope the FDA approval will make this treatment good enough for people who’ve previously had a stroke, giving hope to people living with the impairment that would otherwise be considered permanent.