Service offered in less than 35 cities nationwide

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Patients who suffer upper spinal cord injuries are often left unable to breathe on their own and require the assistance of a ventilator, sometimes for the rest of their lives. But a revolutionary procedure being performed at WVU Healthcare is helping to get patients off ventilators and on the road to recovery.

An upper spinal cord injury breaks the connection between the brain and the diaphragm – the brain can no longer tell the diaphragm to contract. But for some people who suffer this type of spinal cord injury, a diaphragmatic pacemaker can be put into place to help them breathe. Just as a pacemaker for the heart helps to control the heartbeat, a diaphragmatic pacemaker stimulates the diaphragm to contract, allowing the patient to breathe.

The surgical team at West Virginia University’s Jon Michael Moore Trauma Center implanted a diaphragm pacemaker on Feb. 14 in a patient who sustained spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries in a car accident in late January.

Jennifer Knight, M.D., assistant professor in the WVU Department of Surgery and member of the team caring for the patient, said the patient made more progress in the day after the pacemaker implantation than in the prior three weeks of hospitalization with a ventilator.

Most patients who could be candidates for the diaphragm pacemaker come into the Jon Michael Moore Trauma Center during the summer months when ATV accidents and diving accidents occur more frequently, Dr. Knight said. She anticipates that there are other patients in similar situations who are treated at other facilities in the state who could benefit from this procedure.

“West Virginians who are candidates for diaphragm pacemaker implantation don’t have to go to Baltimore or Cleveland to have the procedure done,” Knight said. “We’re doing it right here in their own backyards.”

In order to move to a nursing or rehabilitation facility, patients cannot be dependant on a ventilator for breathing. The use of the pacemaker allows patients who wouldn’t be able to come off the ventilator to take the next step in their treatment.

In addition, the cost of using the pacemaker versus the cost of being hooked up to a ventilator is tremendously less expensive. Knight said the batteries for the pacemaker cost about $20 to replace every three weeks whereas it can cost upwards of $500,000 for a patient to remain on a ventilator for a year.

“For the patients who will benefit from this, it is life changing. Your life is totally different when you’re not hooked to a machine,” Knight said.

The device, NeuRx DPS is currently being used in less than 35 cities nationwide, according to its manufacturer, Synapse Biomedical. For more information on the device, see

For more information on the Jon Michael Moore Trauma Center see

For more information: Angela Jones, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
asj: 02-22-11