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The Bionic Body
Born Again NervesI Might Walk!Moving MemoriesNerves of SteelMind Over Matter
Photo of Alan and Marsolais
  Alan talks with FES pioneer Dr. Byron Marsolais.

Paralysis results from impaired or severed communication between the brain and the body. But just because the brain can't control the body, doesn't mean the body is no longer capable of taking direction. This is the concept behind FES, or Functional Electrical Stimulation, in which electrodes implanted in the body stimulate the muscles, allowing some degree of movement.

In " Nerves of Steel," Alan revisits Dr. Byron Marsolais and his colleagues at the Cleveland VA Hospital and the Cleveland Metro Health Center. Twenty years ago, Marsolais pioneered the first experimental FES system. Now growing numbers of patients are benefitting from the program. Alan meets Jen Penko, who uses an implanted FES system, called "standing transfer." Standing is a major accomplishment for Jen, paralyzed in a 1997 snowboarding accident. Using the system, she can reach objects on a high shelf, get out of her chair and into a car or onto a sofa. At the same time she's putting weight on her leg muscles and bones, preventing atrophy and osteoporosis. And of course, with FES she can talk with people like Alan eye to eye.

Photo of Jim Jatich writing
Thanks to FES, Jim Jatich can grasp with his paralyzed left hand.  

Alan also catches up with veteran volunteer experimental subject Jim Jatich, who uses FES to open and close his once-paralyzed hand. Says Jim, "You know it just changes people's lives. And that's the kick I get out of it, to see how people change."

For more on this topic, see the web feature:
Standing Tall

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