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HEBER CITY, Utah (AP) — A Heber City man who was paralyzed from the chest down five years ago in a car crash still can't feel his legs, but he's standing up again two years after getting an experimental implant that stimulates his spinal cord.
Dustin Shillcox is one of six people to take part of part in clinical test by researchers at the University of Louisville. A surgeon implanted a box in his stomach that is connected by a wire to an epidural stimulator on his spinal cord that unleashes an electrical charge, KSL-TV reports (http://bit.ly/1LjHDgA ).
Shillcox can stand up from his wheelchair by grabbing ahold of his walker. He's working on being able to stand alone, and hopes to walk again someday. He's also training to ride his sit-bike in the New York City Marathon.
"I believe I will walk again one day," Shillcox said. "It's just a matter of the effort and perseverance I keep putting into this. I have to be able to stand before I can walk."
Claudia Angeli, a spinal cord injury specialist at the University of Louisville, said the apparatus helps the spinal cord remember what it did before the injury. They still don't know exactly how it works, but they are seeing positive results, she said.
"We know from animal studies that the spinal cord, at that level, has the networks for locomotion and standing," Angeli said. "All the neurons and interneurons are organized at that level."
The development has given Shillcox newfound hope after he had to deal with knowing he wouldn't be able to walk, run and jump after a vicious car accident in 2010. A tire on his car blew out, causing the vehicle to roll, he said. Shillcox, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected out the window. Doctors told him he was paralyzed from the waist down 1 ½ months later.
"As reality sunk in and this was going to be my life, it's a hard thing to go through," Shillcox said.
Today, Shillcox regularly goes to his favorite gym to lift weights and practice standing up. He uses a Wi-Fi remote control to turn on the stimulator.
"I turn it on, and I hold it next to my stomach, and I can change the configurations that I want to use," Shillcox said. "It's awesome."
After the few minutes it takes for the muscles to receive the electrical charge, Shillcox looks down to make sure his feet are set correctly and stands up slowly from his wheel chair. He steadies himself by clutching the walker in front of him. It took him two years of practice to master.
Being able to stand has also increased his blood flow, circulation and improved his bone density, he said. Shillcox, who does motivational speaking, hopes other paralyzed people get a chance to get the implant he has.
"Just to get that feeling again to stand, it's emotional at first," Shillcox said. "Now I want to stand every chance I get."
Information from: KSL-TV, http://www.ksl.com/
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