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Quadriplegic coughs with help from implant

/ Source: The Associated Press

Just five weeks ago, Ronnie Moore could not do what most people take for granted — cough and clear his lungs.

Now Moore, a quadriplegic, coughs by simply pressing a button on a control box on the tray of his wheelchair.

“I feel air moving out of my throat,” said Moore, who is in his 50s.

Moore’s cough was the first performed electronically by a quadriplegic, according to his doctor, Anthony DiMarco, a research scientist at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.

Not being able to cough made Moore susceptible to respiratory infections like bronchitis and pneumonia — a leading cause of hospitalization and death in paraplegics and quadriplegics. He also was not able to clear his throat of food or secretions without help from an attendant at the nursing home where he lives.

'More like a normal person'

Moore, paralyzed from the neck down in a 1998 car accident, is the first patient to participate in a four-year, $1.5 million study paid for by the National Institutes of Health. DiMarco says three other quadriplegics are scheduled to receive the implants in September.

Five weeks ago, three electrodes the size of pencil erasers were implanted near the surface of Moore’s spine to activate the nerves emanating from his lower spinal cord. The electrodes are connected by wires to a small receiver implanted under his skin, just below his rib cage.

A small external battery pack attached to the receiver activates the electrodes to contract his abdominal muscles, causing them to generate a cough.

DiMarco said it will take at least three more weeks to determine how much electrical current is needed to give Moore consistent, strong coughs.

“This will make him more like a normal person who can cough anytime he wants to,” the doctor said.