Electrode Implants Help Paralyzed Patient Back Onto His Feet

Electrical stimulation offers hope for adults with spinal cord injuries to learn to walk again.

Rob Summers is standing up. Two feet on the ground, legs straight, hips squared. He has done it thousands of times before — out of bed in the morning to practice with his championship-winning collegiate baseball team, or up from the couch to get a snack. 

Most memorably, he stood up on a July night in 2006 to walk out the door and over to his parked car on a street in Portland, Ore. Standing next to his Ford Explorer, he saw the lights of another vehicle approaching from behind. It was coming fast — too fast. 

Before he could get out of the way, the car threw him to the ground, and the driver fled what was a gruesome scene: Summers lay on the asphalt in a pool of blood, the victim of a hit-and-run that severed the connection between his brain and spinal cord and paralyzed him from the chest down.

Fast-forward three and a half years: A 23-year-old Summers is standing up again. He’s in a lab, hooked up to wires and sensors, and surrounded by doctors and research assistants. He is the first patient in an experiment that has gone fantastically right.

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