BRUSSELS - Glitch Foils First Step-Out for Paraplegic Man : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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HEADLINE: Glitch Foils First Step-out for E-Leg

April 14, 2000 BRUSSELS: Confined to a wheelchair since a road accident made him a paraplegic 10 years ago, Marc Merger was to have taken his first public steps last week, but a computer glitch ruined his day.

The tiny microprocessor, surgically implanted in his body to electrostimulate his dormant leg muscles, failed on its first public try. Reporters invited to witness the event instead went away with video cassettes of a successful, private attempt. The tape showed Merger, a French bank manager before his accident and now a college lecturer, lifting himself from his wheelchair and taking a few hesitant but historic steps with the help of a walking frame.

Professor Pierre Rabischong of the University of Montpellier showed off the electronic implant device.

Merger's operation was performed by a French-German-Italian surgical team last month at the University of Montpellier in southern France under a European Union program that financed half the $48,000 cost. It aims to give people like Merger a chance at regaining at least partial mobility.

Philippe Busquin, European Commissioner for Research, describes the operation on Merger as "a world's first ... partially restoring the capacity of a paralysed patient to walk again.

"Effectively, more than half of all paralysed people are confined to the wheelchair because of an accident that cut the nerves in the spinal cord controlling the legs," he says.

Until now, there was no hope to ever gain control again.

Busquin says the operation was preceded by months of physical therapy to condition Merger's leg muscles, a program that received assistance from rehabilitation centres in Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands and Britain.

"A mere group of medical doctors could not have done this research alone," Busquin says.

He is cautiously optimistic, saying the implant of the electronic chip and the accompanying signal transmission system would only be tried on patients meeting strict criteria regarding their physical condition and the damage to their spinal cords.

"The patient will only be able to walk slowly, aided by a walking stick or crutches containing the control buttons," he says.

"He will not be able to take staircases and cannot hope to live entirely without a wheelchair.",2707,,00.html


-- (, April 15, 2000

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