VA Testing Implant for Paralyzed Vets!

by | Apr 29, 2021 | Blog, News, Resources, Service Connected, Veteran's Benefits

VA Testing Implant for Paralyzed Vets!

Researchers at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Virginia, have begun working to determine whether the placement of epidural stimulators can help aid paralyzed Veteran’s in the effort to recover from/regain motor activity and control over parts of their body – such as their cardiovascular system and their bladder.

In the past the use of epidural stimulants has shown positive results elsewhere, but according to Dr. Ashraf Gorgey, the Chief of Spinal Cord Injury Research at the Richmond, VA location, this is the first time they’ve decided to venture down this path. Dr. Gorgey said that his team has ‘several goals’ they’d like to achieve during this time of research and development, most notably, working to see how well an epidural stimulator (manufactured by Medtronic) would work on said spinal cord injuries – one of which can be implanted inside of the body with minimally invasive surgery. Dr. Gorgey said that he plans to implant these devices into 20 Veteran’s, who would then be responsible for taking part in a year-long intensive rehabilitation program, with the key focus being therapy and training.


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Joshua Burch using an exoskeleton device to attend his promotion to corporal in 2016. (Photo C/O Joshua Burch)

Burchs’ Path of Rehabilitation

At age 21, Marine Lance Cpl., Joshua Burch fractured his seventh cervical vertebrae – the lowest bone in his neck.

The accident causing this injury took place in Guam, in September 2015 – Burch said that he doesn’t quite recall what happened to him to cause this injury. He remembers being inside of his hotel room, talking to his sergeant, and waking up the next day on the ground – totally unable to move. Burch underwent several difficult surgeries in Hawaii before ultimately being moved to McGuire’s Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center – a place where he met Dr. Gorgey, and first learned about the use of exoskeletons.

After this chance encounter, being the warrior that he is, Burch became the first paralyzed service member to walk to his promotion ceremony, wearing the exoskeleton which helped him to walk and stand to receive his corporal chevrons.

“Even thinking about walking is crazy. I look at this as a stepping-stone to a future where others like me can walk. I look at my participation in this research as a way of helping people out.” 

Now at the age of 26, Burch hopes to add another first to his long list of achievements – the first patient to regain function in his lower body, inclusive of taking steps, all courtesy of an electrical implant in his spine, designed to stimulate his sensorimotor networks.

“By using the exoskeleton, we can train him to – hopefully, stand up and walk again,” said Dr. Gorgey.

$3.7M Grant Made This All Possible

A $3.7M grant from the Defense Department underneath the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program made this study possible. Dr. Robert Trainer, who specializes in pain management, and is familiar with the aforementioned Medtronic devices will be implanting these devices while Dr. Gorgey oversees the program itself and works to manage post-operative physical therapy.

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