M04 — January 2012 — Breathing Freely
Intro: Breathing. We rarely give it a thought, because we don't have to. Our brain signals our body to do it automatically. Unfortunately, spinal cord injuries can disconnect the signal. Then what? At Mayo Clinic, technology may be able to take over the job. Here's Dennis Douda for Medical Edge.
"I came a long way from being able to do nothing, to being able to do a lot."
Sheila Lehnen is finally getting back into the world and this is a very big day.
"I went a whole year without seeing any of my children's activities. And this is the first one that I'll be able to go to."
Today, she is front row at her son Matt's high school musical performance. You see when Sheila's neck was broken in a fall down the stairs, she knew she might be paralyzed, but she at least thought the wheels on her chair could still take her places.
However, also paralyzed was her diaphragm, the muscle that contracts to pull air into our lungs.
Like so many people who survive a spinal cord injury, every moment of Sheila's life depended on a mechanical ventilator, or vent, to breathe for her.
Her solution is the diaphragm pacing system. Think of it as a pacemaker for breathing, with a small battery-powered stimulator connected to the diaphragm by four electrical leads.
"At a predictable rate, say about 16-times a minute, this electrical signal will tell the diaphragm to contract.
We can change how long the stimulation lasts, how strong it is or how frequently it occurs to optimize it for each person."
Over a period of months, as Sheila's diaphragm muscle grew stronger through physical rehabilitation … her time off the ventilator grew from minutes to hours to complete liberation.
"Independence is essential."
Dr. Mark Lindsay says … helping Sheila regain the ability to breathe on her own also reduces the risk of deadly respiratory complications; pneumonia posing the greatest risk.
The ability to get rid of the tracheostomy tube — that's a foreign body that's in the trachea, and bacteria and other bugs like to be able to grab hold of that. So, to be able to take that out is gonna lower her risk of infection.
Helping to assure that there will be many more events for Sheila to enjoy with her family.
For Medical Edge, I'm Dennis Douda.
Sheila has grown strong enough that she can breathe on her own, even without the Diaphragm Pacer, for several hours a day.
Dr. Reeves says the savings from freeing a patient from a ventilator can be considerable, which is no small accomplishment in this day of trying to control medical costs.
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