A Humboldt Broncos hockey player paralyzed in last year’s bus crash is now able to move his leg thanks to a procedure performed overseas in Thailand.
Twenty-year-old Ryan Straschnitzki travelled to Thailand for a spinal cord surgery earlier this month and on Wednesday, a video posted to Twitter by his father showed the Albertan moving his leg back and forth.
His mother Michelle said she cried when she first saw the video.
“I was blown away completely. I was not expecting it and not this soon. It was really remarkable,” Michelle said Thursday.
“Of course, I burst into tears.”
Ryan and his father, Tom travelled to Thailand for the surgery, which saw a device implanted in Ryan’s spine.
While the device has been widely used for chronic pain, its application for spinal cord injury is new, according to a professor at the University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine.
Dr. Aaron Phillips explained the epidural stimulating implant reawakens “dormant” cells.
“The underlying concepts behind this implant is it’s an electrical device that’s surgically implanted on the spinal cord below the level of where the injury occurs,” Phillips said.
According to Phillips, the reason why Ryan is no longer able to move his legs is because the cells in his central nervous system, in his spinal cord, are no longer able to activate, and no longer able to transmit those electrical currents.
The implant provides an electrical current into the spinal cord.
“We’re actually able to reawaken nervous system cells that have previously been dormant or not able to be awoken because of that injury,” Phillips said.
Phillips said success of the implantation varies but there have been several patients who have been able to “walk” with the help of devices.
“Most people actually experience improvements in motor functions, like wiggling the toes, or move their hips… there is an improvement. Where the ceiling is, depends on the optimization of the stimulation,” he said.
“I was extremely excited for Ryan when I saw this video, I thought it was a great starting point.”
While Phillips is not personally involved with Ryan’s case, he has extensive knowledge of the topic.
The medical professor is involved in clinical trials in the United States and Switzerland. In Canada, the surgery isn’t available and Phillips estimates Canada is about five to 10 years away from having the option available, Phillips said.
“What I’m really looking forward to now is where we can move the ceiling of recovery — where we can really push him to get to in terms of function. Not only motor systems but also his autonomic, cardiovascular, bladder bowel system,” he said.
While it’s not clear if Ryan will ever be able to stand on his own or walk again, the Straschnitzki family is hopeful that their determined son will continue to beat the odds.
“He continues to amaze me. I’ve always know he’s a strong and good kid, but he’s also pushing so hard and so fast,” Michelle said.
“He’s wanting to move up his therapy sessions a little bit harder so he can come home soon.”
Michelle said doctors can’t say for certain what the end result will be, as it’s different for everybody, but there is a chance that he might be able to stand with assistance.
“With him, anything is possible.”
Over the next few weeks, Ryan will spend several hours a day working on controlling his legs with the new implant. He and his father will be in Thailand until early December.
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