Diaphragm Pacing - Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

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RIC Offers Diaphragm Pacing

The diaphragm pacing system, manufactured by Synapse Biomedical, Inc., can help the roughly 12,000 people living with high-level spinal cord injuries (SCI) who rely on tracheotomy tubes and ventilators to breathe. The system stimulates the patient's diaphragm to imitate more natural breathing than that provided by a forced-air ventilator. 

More natural speech, easier transport, cost savings

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.

Dr. David Chen

Dr. David Chen, medical
director, RIC's Spinal Cord
Injury Rehabilitation

 “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 David Chen, MD, medical director, 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.”

Recent success story

Jeffery Johnson, 43, from McHenry County, Ill., experienced an SCI after he fell two stories when scaffolding broke away from a house he was siding. Only two days after his surgery, Johnson was pacing for 30 minutes several times a day. He worked with rehabilitation experts to continue conditioning his diaphragm and 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 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.

First in the Midwest

RIC and Northwestern Memorial Hospital were the first health care organizations in the Midwest to offer this procedure. In clinical trials of this system conducted by Synapse Biomedical, 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.

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.