The emerging treatment helping paralyzed Humboldt Bronco

[Reporter: Vik Adhopia] Last November in Thailand Ryan Straschnitzki became the latest of about a dozen Canadians to try an emerging treatment for paralysis. Canadians have watched Ryan’s recovery from traumatic spine injury and transformation to sledge hockey player. Now, he’s training his paralyzed muscles to move again. For that he’s getting help from a stimulator implanted on his spine. Boosting electrical impulses from his mid-torso down. [Ryan] I feel like I could move a little more. I’m just trying to get more more core function. To kind of help me in the slide, help with hip movement and movement and stuff like that. So when I breathe in the core activates. But when I breathe out, it stops [Reporter] He had a Thai medical team in tow. [Ryan] Yeah, like it’s twisting my body to the right. [Reporter] They’re figuring out the right level of stimulation. Pinpointing each muscle, each movement. Ryan’s father Tom watches his development. [Tom] I think they’re trying to increase the voltage to get the nerves going and his core going. It might be too low so I think they’re just upping it. [Reporter] Back at the Bangkok hospital intensive physiotherapy continues to strengthen muscles activated by the stimulator. Spinal or epidural stimulation uses tiny electrodes implanted over the spinal cord below the injury. A small generator delivers impulses boosting signals from the brain in the hopes of re-establishing the damaged connections between the brain and spinal cord. [Ryan] I can feel the stimulation going
throughout my body and there’s a certain technique that my body has to get used to move the muscles. [Reporter] Just how much motor function Ryan will regain is not clear. But his family still paid more than a hundred thousand dollars for the procedure because of the promise they’ve seen in other paraplegics. They’ve done over a hundred operations, all successes. All different levels of injury. And this is being used in Canada anyway but for nerve pain. So I don’t know why they can’t work together. In North America and most of Europe the device was licensed primarily for pain management decades ago. Not for improving motor function. In the spinal cord injury community it’s a very hot topic right now. Everybody’s interested in it. Some people want to take part in it. Others think it’s too early. [Reporter] Back in Canada, unlike Ryan Steve Crochetiere crush a tear was implanted with a stimulator for free in the US as part of a clinical trial. He was paralyzed ten years ago in a motorcycle accident Calgary. Researchers are following his progress. With the touch of a button he can move his legs again. Something he hasn’t done in a long time. After nine years of not moving any of your muscles, any of your legs you almost forget how to do it. So the idea was to kind of retrain your brain to focus on those muscles that you haven’t used in so long to do those movements [Doctor] And the movement is from Steve’s brain that’s where that’s where it’s starting from. It’s not from the phone starting down. [Reporter] Right, so it’s more like a conduit in a sense? [Doctor] Yeah, it’s real wakening some pathways to allow his brain to re-control his legs. [Steve] It’s kind of emotional right now just talking about it. It’s a pretty powerful thing. [Reporter] While the new leg movement seems like a breakthrough there are other big changes Steve’s experiencing. Building muscles to perform functions most of us take for granted. The invisible disabilities of being paralyzed. I feel I got more energy. I feel better. Of course my body temperature to control. All those things, having it on helps with that, right? [Reporter] What are the other complications that people may not realize that you live with as a result of a spinal cord injury? If you’re sitting for too long in the same
position and you do a small movement your legs are gonna want to kick out. Again, you can follow to your wheelchair I mean, you can hurt yourself quite a bit. Also you know you lose some control your bowels and bladders. Major, major aspect. Blood pressure. Going from laying down to sitting. You’re very lightheaded to the point where sometimes you pass out. [Reporter] Steve like Ryan had to balance risk and reward in getting the stimulator. From bowel control to blood pressure and even lung capacity. It’s transforming quality of life and independence. But there’s still lots of fine details about this technology to figure out. We’re measuring how much oxygen he’s using during this exercise. Dr Andrei Krassiokov is a leading spinal cord researcher in Vancouver investigating the progress of implanted patients and their invisible symptoms. I totally appreciate the excitement of my patients who underwent this procedure as this was clinical trials, they paid and went abroad. But one aspect we medical community will have to be ready. The next important aspect that we still
need more data. Can we with the same device activate specific target organs? How precise is this? Many many questions have to be investigated before it will come to Health Canada FDA for approval of this technology for new indications. [Reporter] Scientific investigation takes time. And Isaac Darrell says he didn’t have time after his accident. The former oil patch worker went to Thailand in 2016 for surgery. He worried if he didn’t the complications of his injury would kill him. I think I would have had a stroke eventually. I was having all the symptoms. Nausea, blurry vision, sweating profusely Almost heart attack signs like every two days when I’d go to the washroom. So it was horrible. [Reporter] Alarmingly high rates of heart disease and stroke are common after spinal cord injuries. Now, for Isaac the simple act of going to the bathroom is almost simple again. I don’t even have to use my simulator. I’ve activated enough muscle in my core to just be able to go. [Reporter] Do we have a good sense of the risks involved with having these long term inside patients? We have very clear track records of side effects from implantation of pain stimulators. Typical any surgery is a possibility for infections but actually incidence of infection is quite low when it’s done in appropriate hospital settings. Right now we’re doing a very well-organized approved clinical trials to document what are the potential benefits and potential side-effects? It’s a small patient group. That’s correct It’s only on a small patient groups so far. [Reporter] Possible risks include infection, shock, burns and nerve damage. And even if the risk is slight Dr. Krassiokov says stimulators are still not a cure for paralysis. [reporter] So if epidural stimulation is approved by Health Canada is this something you would get for yourself? Absolutely. At this spinal cord physio center in Newmarket, Ontario Barry Munro of the Canadian Spinal Research Organization is optimistic approval for epidural stimulation is three to five years away. People are desperate. People are dying with spinal cord injury. We don’t really realize that that there are a lot of people who don’t survive long term spinal cord injury and they’re suffering and there’s not enough there for them. [Reporter] Barry has seen lots of promising research in his three decades in a wheelchair and lots of disappointment. So he urges caution. What happens for Ryan might not happen for another individual. We like to say a spinal cord is like a fingerprint. There’s no two the same. This is a great step. We’re just not there yet. [Reporter] Back in Calgary, Ryan’s family is also optimistic his recovery will keep going. His mother Michelle is discovering what’s possible. Right now, we’re just gonna try and focus on the right now. That he can have as much control over his body as possible. And being a 20-year-old guy, he wants to be as normal as possible. And have you know those experiences as a young man. [Reporter] Ryan’s physio continues with the stimulator. I think going in with that mentality you’ll be able to you know push yourself and hopefully be the first one to actually walk on your own. Ryan knows this is not a cure and while he’s still adjusting to life in a wheelchair he’s also gaining some independence. Vic I understand that people who are
paraplegic have been getting these implants for some time with some pretty
remarkable results in some cases how far away are we with getting these devices
approved in Canada well it’s interesting makers of medical
devices have often faced criticism for trying to rush products to market
without enough clinical evidence or information about possible side effects
or complications but you know in this case we contacted all three makers of
are the three main makers of these devices and they’re not actually
involved in the clinical trials they’re leaving it up to scientists and
researchers who are doing this work independently so the companies are
hanging back a bit and not saying much about it but you know once we see some
favorable results in these clinical trials peer reviewed that kind of thing
I think you can expect that they will apply to Health Canada and the FDA to
have these devices used for this purpose okay so walk us through it
hypothetically if it was approved tomorrow how accessible would they be to
Canadians well in Canada in theory you could then pay a surgeon to do it or to
implant this device if you could find one but you know for our public health
care system to fund this they would it goes through this public agency which
will evaluate whether it’s effective enough that it’s worth the cost and then
and only then could it be paid for by provinces but even then we saw with Ryan
there is a whole team supporting him we just don’t have that capacity and
expertise in Canada right now all right vague thanks very much you’re welcome

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