to FES, Jen Penko was able to leave her wheelchair behind
on her wedding day.
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.
"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 catches up with veteran volunteer experimental subject
Jim Jatich, who remains wheelchair bound but uses FES to open
and close his once-paralyzed hands. Alan also 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 get
out of her chair to reach objects on a high shelf, or get
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.
gets a demonstration of FES in action from long-time user
recently, Jen was able to use her FES system to walk down
the aisle on her wedding day. Though she had to rely on the
support of a walker, that mattered little to Jen, who writes,
"For that time, I wasn't disabled. All the negative sides
of disability disappeared, to be replaced with the gifts of
abilities." Jim Jatich echoes her sentiment, "You know it
just changes people's lives. And that's the kick I get out
of it, to see how people change."
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