DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Dr. Chester Ho, left, an award-winning spinal cord surgeon and researcher from Cleveland, speaks to spinal injury patient Jamie Hercules after addressing a spinal injury support group meeting at the REHAB Hospital of the Pacific. Ho is here on vacation doing rounds at hospitals and consultations and speeches on spinal cord research.
Spinal study advances
A doctor shares news on assistive devices with local patients
Jamie Hercules, who lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle accident two years ago, says some new research in Ohio could lead to more mobility for spinal injury patients.
"I just hope it doesn't come too late," said Hercules, 33, of Waikiki, whose doctors say its a miracle he has started moving his legs again.
Hercules was referring to the research of Dr. Chester Ho and his team at the Cleveland FES (Functional Electrical Stimulation) Center in Ohio.
Hercules was with a spinal injury support group that heard Ho speak at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific last week.
Ho, an acclaimed researcher, is assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University and an investigator at the Cleveland FES Center, a consortium of Case Western, the Veterans Affairs Department and MetroHealth Medical Center.
He was here for consultations, hospital rounds and speeches as REHAB Hospital's Morita Distinguished Fellow. The program began in 2003 to bring international experts in medical rehabilitation here to share expertise with health care providers.
"Many good things have happened in spinal cord research," Ho said in an interview.
Tiny electrical devices are implanted into muscles to stimulate the nerves, he said. "It's like a pacemaker to the neurological system. Basically we can affect muscle contractions directly despite spinal cord injuries.
"We help people to restore their function in upper extremities and lower extremities and help them to breathe again, like Christopher Reeve. He got off the respirator because of a device from Cleveland."
Reeve, a noted actor who died in 2004, was paralyzed in an equestrian accident in 1995. He drew a lot of attention to spinal cord injuries and funding for research, Ho said.
Not every person is a candidate for an implantation device, he said, explaining it depends on a person's injuries. But some participants in the research program, after training and rehabilitation, can regain some movements, he said.
"They can have a handclasp back. Some may be able to stand up as a result, or they can breathe again without a ventilator."
A lot of the devices are under a research protocol, Ho said, explaining they cannot be purchased and are not likely to be commercialized because the spinal cord injury population is small.
However, many expenses are covered by the research project for those eligible for the device, he said. "It is a very wonderful program. Many people do not even know this could be an option."
Ho also focuses research on pressure ulcer (bedsore) management in spinal cord injuries, and the implantable device can help prevent pressure ulcers, he said.
He is chief of spinal cord service at the FES Center and part of a team of investigators funded by the VA, National Institutes of Health and other programs, he said.
"There is always better hardware and design coming out," he said, "so it's really always changing and improving."
Hercules, married with two children, said he goes to REHAB about twice a week and also does exercises at home. He said Ho's research is "very interesting. I just hope he can put it together and everybody can network to benefit everybody. Some doctors don't know about this."
Hercules acknowledges he was speeding "a little bit" when he lost control of his motorcycle on Pineapple Road on the North Shore. "I did have my helmet on and stuff. It saved my life."
His advice for other would-be motorcycle speeders: "Don't do it."