Electrodes allow a paralyzed athlete to compete

After a paralyzing snowboarding accident, athlete Jennifer French turned to neurotechnology to find new ways to regain mobility.

TRANSCRIPT

WHEN JENNIFER FRENCH WAS PARALYZED IN A TRAGIC SNOWBOARDING ACCIDENT IN 1998, THE 20-SOMETHING ATHLETE PROBABLY DID NOT IMAGINE SHE WOULD ONE DAY TAKE HOME A SILVER MEDAL FROM THE U.S. PARALYMPICS.

HOWEVER, THANKS TO THE WONDERS OF NEUROTECHNOLOGY, SPECIFICALLY A NETWORK OF ELECTRODES IMPLANTED IN HER MUSCLES, NOT ONLY DID FRENCH REGAIN HER MOBILITY, SHE BECAME A FIERCE COMPETITOR ONCE AGAIN.

I GREW UP IN NORTHEASTERN OHIO.

JUST AN AVERAGE, YOU KNOW, SUBURBIAN KID, IF YOU WILL.

MY DAD ALWAYS HAD A LOVE FOR THE PARK SYSTEMS, SO WE WERE INVOLVED WITH A LOT OF OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES -- THINGS LIKE CANOEING AND KAYAKING AND CAMPING.

JENNIFER FRENCH LOVES THE OUTDOORS AND RELATED SPORTS, INCLUDING SNOWBOARDING.

IN HER EARLY 20s, SHE WENT ON A WEEKEND SKI TRIP IN THE MOUNTAINS OF NEW HAMPSHIRE.

THERE WERE ABOUT TWO DOZEN OF US THAT HAD RENTED A HOUSE THAT WAS SLOPESIDE AND PLANNED ON SNOWBOARDING, YOU KNOW, ALL DAY AND ALL WEEKEND.

ON FRIDAY THE 13th, UNDER A FULL MOON, WE WANTED TO DO THE MIDNIGHT RUN, AND IF YOU'VE EVER SKIED AT NIGHT UNDER A FULL MOON, THE TRAILS JUST GLOW, SO IT'S ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL.

SO ABOUT A DOZEN OF US SLAPPED ON OUR SNOWBOARDS AND OUR SKIS, AND WE WENT DOWN THE MOUNTAIN.

11 MADE IT TO THE BOTTOM.

I DID NOT.

ALONG THE WAY, I HIT A PATCH OF ICE, WENT DOWN A 40-FOOT EMBANKMENT, HIT A BUNCH OF TREES, AND CAME OUT AS A QUADRIPLEGIC.

JEN'S LIFE WAS CHANGED FOREVER.

UNDERSTANDING AND DEALING WITH A TRAUMATIC INJURY SUCH AS A SPINAL CORD INJURY, YOU'RE -- THE LIFE THAT YOU KNEW BEFORE IS OVER.

IT BASICALLY STOPS.

AND ONCE YOU GET OUT OF THE HOSPITAL, YOU HAVE TO TRY TO PICK UP YOUR PIECES AGAIN, WHICH IS REALLY DIFFICULT TO DO.

SHE TURNED TO NEUROTECHNOLOGY TO FIND WAYS TO REGAIN SOME MOBILITY.

I WAS DOING SOME BACKGROUND RESEARCH THAT HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR ELECTRICAL STIMULATION, AND THAT'S WHERE I FELL UPON THE CLEVELAND FES CENTER.

THE FES, OR FUNCTIONAL ELECTRICAL STIMULATION CENTER, IN CLEVELAND, OHIO, WAS IN THE PROCESS OF DOING CLINICAL TRIALS ON THE STAND AND TRANSFER SYSTEM.

THE FUNCTIONAL ELECTRICAL STIMULATION IS USED TO TREAT PEOPLE THAT HAVE HAD INJURIES SUCH AS SPINAL-CORD INJURY, A STROKE, PARKINSON'S DISEASE, EPILEPSY.

DR. KIRSCH WORKED WITH JEN FROM THE VERY BEGINNING WHEN SHE FIRST CAME TO THE FES CENTER IN 1999.

AFTER A THOROUGH EVALUATION, JEN WAS CONSIDERED A GOOD CANDIDATE TO HAVE THE ELECTRODES IMPLANTED.

MY FIRST SURGERY WAS 7 1/2 HOURS, TO HAVE THE FULL SYSTEM IMPLANTED.

DURING THE SURGERY, THE MUSCLES ARE FIRST PROBED WITH AN ELECTRICAL STIMULATOR, A SURGICAL STIMULATOR TO MAKE SURE THAT THEY WILL CONTRACT, AND THEN THE ELECTRODES ARE PLACED, AND THEN THOSE ARE, AGAIN, STIMULATED THROUGH TO MAKE SURE THAT THE MUSCLES WILL CONTRACT ONCE STIMULATED.

AFTER A FEW WEEKS OF HEALING, JEN BEGAN TO TRAIN TO STAND FOR THE FIRST TIME IN TWO YEARS.

ONE OF THOSE MOMENTS YOU NEVER FORGET, THAT'S FOR SURE.

FOR MY FIRST STAND, IT WAS A GREAT MOMENT, AND BEING ABLE TO DO IT INDEPENDENTLY WAS EVEN MORE IMPORTANT.

I THINK THAT'S THE BEAUTY OF THE SYSTEM.

I MEAN, YOU CAN'T JUST TURN ON THE SYSTEM AND SUDDENLY GET THIS GREAT PERFORMANCE OUT OF YOUR MUSCLES.

YOU NEED TO USE THE SYSTEM TO BUILD UP THAT MUSCLE TISSUE TO BE ABLE TO GET THAT PERFORMANCE.

IT'S THE CLASSIC 'IF YOU DON'T USE IT, YOU'LL LOSE IT.'

THERE ARE A NUMBER OF SECONDARY BENEFITS THAT HAVE TO DO WITH INCREASED MUSCLE STRENGTH, IMPROVED CIRCULATION, INCREASED MUSCLE MASS.

THE NICE THING ABOUT THIS TYPE OF NEUROPROSTHETIC IS THAT THEIR RESEARCHERS WORK WITH YOU TO TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT MUSCLES TO IMPLANT AND WHAT YOUR OPTIONS ARE IN TERMS OF WHAT FUNCTIONAL USE YOU'LL BE ABLE TO GET OUT OF IT.

TODAY, JEN HAS THE FREEDOM TO BE ABLE TO DO SOME KEY TASKS WITHOUT NEEDING BULKY BRACES AND EXTERNAL DEVICES.

YOU KNOW, I'M ABLE TO USE IT FOR THE MUNDANE TASKS OF FOLDING LAUNDRY AND REACHING THINGS OUT OF HIGHER PLACES THAT YOU NORMALLY WOULDN'T.

BUT YOU ALSO GET TO USE IT OUTSIDE THE HOME, AND YOU CAN PLAY FOOSBALL WITH YOUR FRIENDS.

I CAN STAND UP AT A SEVENTH-INNING STRETCH AT A BASEBALL GAME WITH EVERYONE ELSE.

I CAN PARTAKE ON A STANDING OVATION JUST AS WE DO SOCIALLY.

ONE OF MY MOST BELOVED MOMENTS OF USING THIS SYSTEM WAS BEING ABLE TO WALK DOWN THE AISLE AT MY WEDDING AND STAND FOR THE ENTIRE CEREMONY.

SO I LEFT THE WHEELCHAIR BEHIND.

SHE RESUMED HER OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES AND PURSUED HER PASSION FOR SAILING.

SHE BUILT UP HER STRENGTH AND DECIDED TO CAMPAIGN FOR THE PARALYMPICS.

ONCE YOU MAKE A CAMPAIGN FOR THE PARALYMPICS, JUST AS OLYMPIANS DO, IT TAKES OVER YOUR LIFE AND YOU REALLY HAVE TO DO A LOT OF TRAINING TO BUILD UP TO BE AT THAT HIGH LEVEL.

WE GOT THE GOLDEN TICKET TO LONDON TO REPRESENT TEAM U.S.A.

IN 2012, AND WE WENT THERE AND WERE ABLE TO BRING HOME A SILVER MEDAL FOR THE U.S.

JEN'S PASSION FOR LIFE INCLUDES HELPING OTHERS WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM NEUROTECHNOLOGY.

SHE HELPED ESTABLISH THE NEUROTECH NETWORK.

WE'RE A NONPROFIT THAT FOCUSES ON EDUCATION AND ADVOCACY TO ACCESS NEUROTECHNOLOGY DEVICES FOR PEOPLE WITH VARIOUS TYPES OF NEUROLOGICAL CONDITIONS.

JEN SPEAKS REGULARLY ON BEHALF OF NEUROTECHNOLOGY AND ITS DEVELOPMENT.

AT THIS SPECIAL EVENT AT THE DALI MUSEUM IN ST. PETERSBURG, SHE TEAMED UP WITH SCIENTISTS TO SHARE HER STORY.

SO I PRESS A BUTTON, THREE SECONDS LATER, THE SYSTEM ACTIVATES.

IT'LL TURN THE ELECTRODES ON, AND THERE YOU GO AHEAD, AND I'M STANDING UP.

SO, NOW I'M STANDING ON THE POWER OF MY OWN MUSCLES.

SO, I'LL BE ABLE TO MOVE IN SHORT DISTANCES, TO BE ABLE TO DO TRANSFERS THAT ARE TOO DIFFICULT, TO GO THROUGH DOORWAYS THAT ARE WAY TOO NARROW FOR THE WHEELCHAIR, AND, YES, THEY DO EXIST.

SO TO BE ABLE TO SIT, YOU DO THE SAME THING.

JUST TURN OFF THE SYSTEM.

AGAIN, THE ELECTRODES WILL TURN OFF, AND I'M BACK IN MY WHEELCHAIR, AND MY MUSCLES ARE PARALYZED AGAIN.

HER ORGANIZATION SUPPORTS RESEARCH AND ACCESS AND ADVOCATES FOR DEVICE APPROVALS BY THE FDA.

AND THE FDA HAS A WHOLE AREA CALLED THE ORPHAN POPULATIONS IN TERMS OF APPROVING DEVICES.

AND THOSE ARE FOR CONDITIONS THAT HAVE SMALL POPULATIONS, NOT THE LARGE POPULATIONS LIKE DEPRESSION OR AGING OR GRAYING OF HAIR.

WHAT WE TRY TO LOOK FOR IS THESE TYPES OF DEVICES THAT HAVE BEEN APPROVED AND HOW WE CAN BLEED THEM OVER INTO DIFFERENT CONDITIONS.

FROM ACCIDENT VICTIM TO LEADING ADVOCATE, JENNIFER FRENCH HAS ALWAYS BEEN SOMEONE WITH AN UNTAMED SPIRIT.

SO JEN FRENCH IS A SPECIAL WOMAN.

SHE HAS BEEN ONE OF THE PIONEERS IN OUR LOWER-EXTREMITY FES SYSTEM FOR THE STANDING AND TRANSFER.

SHE'S KIND OF IRREPRESSIBLE IN HER ENTHUSIASM AND OPTIMISM.

FOR PEOPLE THAT ARE FACING NEUROLOGICAL CONDITIONS OR A NEW STEP IN THEIR LIFE OF HAVING TO DEAL WITH A DEGENERATIVE DISEASE, IF YOU WILL, THEY NEED TO BECOME THEIR OWN ADVOCATES AND BE ABLE TO LOOK FOR THOSE TYPES OF OPTION.