New Treatment for Paralysis helps Humboldt Broncos Crash Victim

Posted by Stevenson Whelton LLP
December 12, 2019

In April 2018, Canadians were shocked and saddened to learn of the tragic Humboldt Broncos bus crash that led to the death of 16 young men and serious injuries for many others.  The accident was caused by an inexperienced transport truck driver who ran a stop sign and collided with the bus. The truck driver has since been found guilty of 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm and 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death, in connection with the accident.

Ryan Straschnitzki is one of the survivors of the crash that left him paralyzed from the chest down due to a severe spinal injury.  As noted in a recent article on serious spinal injuries caused by car crashes, despite undergoing extensive surgery on his spinal column, Ryan’s doctors believed that he would never regain any significant ability to move his lower body or legs.

In early November of this year, Ryan travelled to Thailand to undergo an experimental surgery which involved implanting an epidural stimulator in Ryan's spine to help him regain movement in his lower body. And, a week later, stem cells were injected below and above the injury to reverse some of the damage to his spine.

The spinal-cord stimulator is an electronic device consisting of electrodes, that's implanted in a patient’s spinal cord in order to stimulate and reawaken dormant nervous system cells in the spine.  And, even for patients who sustained a spinal injury more than 10 years in the past, their brain continues to send signals that can be passed on to the lower body through the electrodes.

According to Dr. Aaron Phillips, a professor at the University of Calgary School of Medicine, the spinal stimulator allows many people with spinal cord injuries to experience improved function such as moving their hips or wiggling their toes. And, a small number of people have actually been able to walk after the device was implanted. But, in addition to being able to move one's legs and walk, a high level of recovery could also involve restored function in a patient’s bladder and bowel system and cardiovascular system, and the device has also been known to improve sexual function. Clearly, this degree of improvement would be life-changing for anyone with a debilitating spinal injury.

Thousands of patients in Canada and the U.S. have already undergone surgery to implant a spinal stimulator in order to relieve their chronic pain.  However, there are health risks for this surgery, such as bleeding, infection and movement of the device. As yet, spinal electrical stimulators have not been approved or licensed by Health Canada for the purpose of regaining function following spinal cord injury.  Clinical trials for the epidural stimulator have begun in the U.S. and Switzerland, and Canadians with spinal injuries may be offered this treatment in 5 to 10 years.

Dr. David Darrow, a chief resident of neurosurgery at the University of Minnesota, leads a team of researchers who has been conducting surgeries with the spinal cord stimulator which, he says, can facilitate communication with nerves below the location of injury.  Dr. Darrow describes the spinal-cord stimulator as a fancy pacemaker and says it’s the first truly promising treatment to allow persons with a spinal cord injury to regain feeling and function. 

For now, Ryan and his family are happy and hopeful about the progress the young man has made in just a few weeks since his surgery.  Ryan has been working extremely hard at rehabilitation therapies and has been able to regain movement, to the point of taking a few steps on his own.

A severe or catastrophic spinal injury is a debilitating and life-changing event for accident victims and their families, and has significant emotional and financial impacts in addition to the physical challenges.  If you or a loved one were seriously injured in an automobile accident caused by a careless or negligent driver, talk to a knowledgeable Oakville spinal injury lawyer at Stevenson Whelton MacDonald & Swan.  Our team has helped and supported many families impacted by a spinal cord injury and we will work hard to get you the compensation you deserve. 



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