News / Health

New Treatment Helps Paraplegic Stand, Take Steps

Rob Summers is a paraplegic who's making history by standing up and taking a few steps.
Rob Summers is a paraplegic who's making history by standing up and taking a few steps.

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Carol Pearson

A man paralysed in a car accident four years ago has taken his first steps thanks to electrical stimulation of his spinal cord and some electrode implants. While researchers are calling it a breakthrough, they caution more research is needed before the treatment is available to other paralyzed patients. Still, it gives hopes to paraplegics everywhere.

What you are seeing is a breakthrough.  Rob Summers is a paraplegic who's making history by standing up and taking a few steps. After a car accident, doctors told him he would never walk again. "I turned to the doctor and said, 'Obviously, you don't know me very well. I am going to walk again," he said.

Summers found out about experimental research at the University of Louisville in the treatment of spinal cord injuries.


Doctors implanted a tiny stimulator in his spinal cord below the damaged area.

When the stimulator is turned on, it energizes Summers' damaged nerves, and he can move his hips, legs and feet.  "I was unable to move a toe or anything for four years, and on the third day of turning the simulator on, I was able to stand independently," he said.

Professor Susan Harkema also marvels at Summers' progress. "Within that week with support, of the body weight support, we were able to get him to stand without any help at the legs so he was generating enough force to bear his body weight," she said.

Professor Harkema says there's a possibility that one day Rob Summers and people like him will be able to walk on their own, but there's still a lot of work to do before that day comes.

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