Diaphragm Pacing System Helps Spinal Cord Patients Regain Independence, Thrive in Life - Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

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Published on February 18, 2009

RIC Offers Diaphragm Pacing System to Help Patients with Spinal Cord Injury Regain Independence, Thrive in Life

RIC First Hospital in the Midwest to Offer Cutting-Edge, Cost-Saving Procedure

CHICAGO (February 18, 2009) – The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), the nation’s #1 rehabilitation hospital[1],   today announces a new diaphragm pacing system for patients with respiratory muscle paralysis as a result of spinal cord injury (SCI), which will improve patients’ overall independence, prove significant cost savings and set new standards in SCI care.

Diane Rowles MS, ACNP, BC

Diane Rowles MS, ACNP, BC

The diaphragm pacing system, manufactured by Synapse Biomedical, Inc., can help the roughly 12,000 people living with high level SCIs who rely on tracheotomy tubes and ventilators to breathe. The system stimulates patients' diaphragms to imitate more natural breathing than that provided by a forced-air ventilation unit. It also may allow for more normal speech patterns and may help patients to regain the senses of taste and smell, which often diminish with ventilator use. Furthermore, because the procedure allows for easier transport, patients may be able to consider a broader scope of long-term care and housing options and participate more in the community.  Additionally, because the battery life of the pacer lasts up to 125% longer than the average ventilator battery and doesn’t require electricity or specialized transportation arrangements, it can provide significant cost savings.

 “RIC is thrilled to offer this revolutionary diaphragm pacing system to help patients with SCI achieve a greater level of independence and thrive in their lives,” said Diane Rowles , MS, ACNP, BC, a nurse practitioner with RIC’s spinal cord injury rehabilitation program. “It’s RIC’s vision that this innovative new technique will become the new standard of care for high level spinal cord injured patients.”

RIC’s First Successful Procedure

Dr. David Chen

Dr. David Chen, medical
director, RIC's Spinal

Cord Injury Rehabilitation


Jeffery Johnson, 43, from McHenry County, Ill., who experienced an SCI in 2007 after he fell two stories when scaffolding broke away from a house he was siding, was the first patient to undergo the procedure on Feb. 2. Only two days after his surgery, Johnson was pacing for 30 minutes several times a day. He will work with rehabilitation experts to continue conditioning his diaphragm and will spend increasing time off the ventilator.

“I hope that this procedure will give me more freedom in my life,” said Johnson.

He is particularly excited about regaining his senses of smell and taste and for the possibilities of traveling. His goal is to visit his brother who lives in Austria .

About the Procedure

The procedure requires a minimally invasive outpatient surgical procedure, conducted at Northwestern Memorial Hospital during which a surgeon implants a neurostimulation device on the diaphragm. Once implanted, the diaphragm pacing system provides electrical stimulation to the diaphragm muscle and nerves, contracting it to imitate natural breathing. Trained clinicians at RIC will train patients and families on the pacing system and monitor ongoing care for the device, which allows air to fill the upper and lower parts of the lungs rather than forcing air in with a mechanical ventilator.

RIC and Northwestern Memorial Hospital are the first healthcare organizations in the Midwest offering this procedure. In clinical trials of this system conducted by Synapse Biomedical, Inc., approximately 50 percent of patients achieved full-time pacing and were able to completely eliminate their ventilation units. Additionally, about 60 percent of patients in the trial were able to use the pacing system more than 12 hours per day.

Candidates for the Diaphragm Pacing System

People over the age of 18 with spinal cord injuries are eligible for this procedure.

If you have a post-acute care injury and are interested in meeting with an RIC clinician to determine your eligibility for the diaphragm pacing system, please call 1-800-883-3931 or visit our appointment page to make an appointment with Dr. David Chen or Diane Rowles, MS, ACNP, BS.

If you are at an inpatient at a hospital or healthcare facility and interested in having an RIC clinician assess your eligibility, please call 312-238-6066, or visit our referral page to make an appointment.

[1] U.S. News & World Report has ranked RIC the “#1 Rehabilitation Hospital ” every year since 1991.

About the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) is the nation’s leading provider of comprehensive physical medicine and rehabilitation care to patients from around the world. Founded in 1953, RIC has been designated the “No. 1 Rehabilitation Hospital in America” by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1991. RIC sets the standard of care in the post-acute market through its innovative applied research and discovery programs, particularly in the areas of neuroscience, bionic medicine, musculoskeletal medicine and technology transfer. The AbilityLab — RIC’s new, state-of-the-art research hospital, will open in March 2017. 

Journalists contact: mediarelations@ric.org, 312-238-6016.

All others contact: webmaster@ric.org.