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Neuromodulation Study Has Participant Take Her First Steps

Posted By Lori Snyder

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The neuromodulation study conducted by our principal investigator, Dr. Monica Perez, and her team that comprise the Neuromodulation & Motor Control Lab has created some excitement in the rehabilitation community with recent gains in neurological response in the spinal cord injury participants. With each new study, the research team adjusted the protocol controls and the participants had greater functional gains during movements such as grasping and walking. This focused response has paid off with their recent participant, a young woman whose determination was as strong as theirs was. After 40 sessions of non-invasive neural stimulation, followed by an hour of physical therapy exercise, this woman took her first steps.

The Neuromodulation Research Study engages neural networks that have been disengaged due to a spinal cord injury. Through mild external electrical stimulation, followed by guided exercises in fine and gross motor control and gait training, participants have gained sensations and in this case mobility. Since each participant and their injury is unique, the results have also been unique. Some participants have remarked that these gains can last up to six months, which gives great optimism to the future outcomes for non-invasive stimulation of spinal synapses for the spinal cord injury community, especially as Dr. Perez has noted that they have not seen any plateaus in patient results.

The lab’s most recent participant, Amber Bruce, experienced a C5-C6 incomplete spinal cord injury one morning while getting ready for work. Thanks to her fiancé who was home, she was able to get immediately to the hospital and into surgery to insert a plate and four screws in her neck. Amber spent several months in Shepherd Hospital in Atlanta, Ga recovering as an inpatient and in outpatient rehab. During this time, she made the determination that she would work hard on her recovery and entered into research studies while still in the hospital. She also began actively pursuing other research studies in anticipation of her future and created what she calls her injury resume. With the help of her brother Seth, who set up an RSS feed within a Google alert for all spinal cord injury-related studies, he found Dr. Monica Perez’s work at the Shirley Ryan Abilitylab. In less than a month, after contacting Dr. Perez and her team, Amber and her brother arrived to participate in the Neuroplasticity Research Study. This included the additional time and safety steps involved in traveling in a worldwide pandemic.

You know what, I am going to improve. I am going to walk. Some of my best steps are my slowest steps. It is about slowing it down and connecting with your body. Dr. Perez’s team is awesome! They are going to make so much progress in terms of improving the lives of the paralysis community. They care and they are a very excitement driven group

Amber Bruce

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Amber said of her experience, “You know what, I am going to improve. I am going to walk. Some of my best steps are my slowest steps. It is about slowing it down and connecting with your body. Dr. Perez’s team is awesome! They are going to make so much progress in terms of improving the lives of the paralysis community. They care and they are a very excitement driven group. “

Her brother Seth added, “There is something to say about the energy of Dr. Perez and her team. You can feel that in the environment that they are rooting for you to do better. That is a huge part of recovery; you need to be surrounded by positivity. When you come to a place like this where everyone is positive and uplifting, and you see these incredible results, I do not think that is just a random phenomenon.”

What is next? Amber says, “I am not stopping this trajectory. I hope that I can come back to continue to work with this study.”

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