Bill Kochevar is an exceptionally brave 56-year-old man who recently let doctors surgically implant brain-recording and muscle stimulator devices into his body explains one of the quadriplegia injury lawyers at the F&A accident law firm in New York. He has been battling quadriplegia (tetraplegia) for over eight years since his spinal cord injury. Quadriplegia causes paralysis in one’s pelvic organs – as well as in the hands, arms, trunk, and legs.
Up until this ground-breaking surgery, the injured Mr. Kochevar could not move any portion of his body beneath his shoulders. He suffered his injury while riding his bicycle. He had been trying to carefully follow behind a truck – when it stopped suddenly. That collision caused all his current injuries.
Once anyone suffers this type of comprehensive spinal cord injury (SCI), the brain’s signals can no longer reach all their various muscles – leaving the person paralyzed.
Where Was This Ground-Breaking Surgery Performed?
Mr. Kochevar’s surgery and care were coordinated by the Cleveland VA Medical Center, Case Western, and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. The surgeons and rehabilitative research scientists involved sought to create a new way for this man’s brain to communicate with his right arm and hand.
Mr. Kochevar proudly reports that he only needed to use his thoughts to carefully coordinate the movements in his hand and arm so he could sip fluids on his own and feed himself. Doctors note that he has also figured out how to scratch his own nose.
Clinical trials for this BrainGate2 system began over eight years ago. At that time, researchers were hoping that the system might help people afflicted with a wide array of spinal cord injuries including tetraplegia (quadriplegia) – as well as Brain Stem Infarctions, Muscular Dystrophy, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), and “Locked-In Syndrome.”
What Types of Specific Devices Were Implanted?
Surgeons implanted two very small electrodes (about the size of a small aspirin pill) just below Mr. Kochevar’s skull. They also placed roughly 36 electrodes in his arm to help stimulate his muscles. These separate implants communicated by using a computer that could translate a person’s brain signals into commands for the desired body part.
It took this man about four months – working with the researchers – to train the BrainGate2 system to recognize what his brain signals meant. Part of this early training involved teaching Mr. Kochevar how to use his brain signals to manipulate a virtual-reality arm featured on a computer screen.
It then took another eight months to fine-tune the types of brain signals (and thoughts required) to move this man’s arm and fingers
- Bolu Ajiboye, one of the authors of this study published in The Lancet, also works in Case Western Reserve University’s biomedical engineering department. He says that earlier equipment like the type Mr. Kochevar used was not sensitive enough. Reaching and grasping movements require very sophisticated commands.
Perhaps the most amazing part of this study involved the researcher’s ability – thanks to Mr. Kochevar’s willingness to take part in this lengthy program – to record his brain signals (indicating what he wanted to do) – and then help him execute them. This study was funded by both the Department of Veteran Affairs and the National Institutes of Health.
If you or a loved one recently suffered a serious spinal cord injury, please get in touch with your New York quadriplegia injury lawyers so that we can help you recover all damages that the negligent party who caused the accident may owe to you.