Medical breakthrough means hope for those with spinal cord injuries
Medical breakthroughs make great news. In fact, reporting on so-called medical "miracles" has been one of the highlights of my career. But nothing compares with learning one of those "miracles" could possibly help change the life of someone I know and love.
Ten years ago, Glenn Henry was in a freak motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. At 65, my professor, coach, mentor and friend had just retired from the athletic department at my alma mater, the University of Northern Iowa.
To celebrate the milestone, Glenn and his wife, Karen, bought a Harley and hit the road. Riding along a quiet, but winding country road one beautiful fall day, their bike suddenly skidded on a patch of gravel and went down. The former winning swim coach, popular professor and successful entrepreneur was able to maneuver the spill so Karen suffered only minor injuries. But Glenn flew over the handlebars...landed on his head and severed his spine at the neck.
Left: Coach Glenn Henry, his wife, Karen, Tom and Carol.
In a split second, one of the most active, full-of-life people I have ever known found his retirement dreams of travel and adventure dashed on some loose gravel. He could no longer do anything on his own but speak and breathe.
With his indomitable spirit, fiercely supportive family and unwavering faith, Glenn has beat the odds and continues to find joy in living – holding out hope that someday, medical science will come up with a cure for spinal cord injuries (SCI).
Recently, his dream moved one step closer to reality.
After his accident, Glenn’s three children connected with the Christopher Reeve Foundation and for the last decade, Lisa, Lori and Lance have been working tirelessly with the non-profit raising money and awareness on behalf of their Dad and others sidelined due to SCI.
Last month came news of what may just be the “miracle” the Henry’s have been praying for. The stunning results of a clinical trial funded by the Reeve Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, could be a game-changer for thousands living with paralysis due to SCI.
Four paralyzed men can now voluntarily move their legs after researchers implanted a device that shoots electrical stimulation into their spinal cords.
Two of the four men were told there was no chance of recovery. But with the help of epidural stimulation, they can now move their hips, ankles and toes.
The study results, published in the journal, “Brain,” are groundbreaking giving hope to many who were given wheelchairs and told to just “live with it.”
The electrical stimulator used in the treatment sends electric pulses of various frequencies and intensities to specific regions of the spinal cord. The electrical signal helped the spinal cord reuse the broken neural network and control movement of limbs.
The treatment also helped improve patient’s overall health. No surprise to Glenn and his family. Because of the added movement, the men in the study developed muscle mass, had better blood circulation and reported greater well being.
You better believe, within moments of getting the news, the Henry’s were filling out paper work to hopefully enroll my friend in the next study. We’re praying this is just the beginning of renewed hope for Glenn and some 200,000 others in the U.S. living with SCI and hope for a future where paralysis is completely reversible.