May 14, 2022

‘It’s amazing’: Paralyzed Broncos hockey player gets upgrade on spinal device

A former junior hockey player whose life-changing injuries from a bus crash four years ago gets a boost he’s been waiting for two years.

Ryan Straschnitzki, 22, is one of four people with spinal cord injuries who are in Calgary this week to have their spinal epidural stimulators reprogrammed.

Straschnitzki was paralyzed from the chest to the feet when a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League collided with a transport truck in 2018. Sixteen people were killed and 13 others were injured .

He had the epidural stimulator implanted in his spine in Thailand in 2019. The device, which looks like a smartphone, sends electrical currents to the spinal cord in an attempt to stimulate nerves and move limbs.

A planned upgrade – with mapping of the complex interplay between nerves and muscles – has been delayed for two years due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m just glad they finally got it right. It’s just about finding new things that work, because over time your body adapts to certain stimulations,” Straschnitzki said in an interview with The Canadian Press. Tuesday.

“It’s amazing. I was able to keep my body healthy and my legs healthy…to have the chance to walk again,” he said. “I think it’s going to be more effective (than) if I hadn’t done the treatment.”

Straschnitzki, who hopes to excel in sledge hockey, is working with a doctor and physiotherapist from Thailand and another physiotherapist from Calgary.

“Sometimes when the (stimulator) is set to a certain level, I can feel it vibrating and squeezing my body so…it’s overwhelming, and there are times when I don’t feel anything at all, so it’s about to find that happy medium. “

Since returning from Thailand, Straschnitzki can stand on her own and take a few steps with a walker.

Dr. Richi Gill, a Calgary surgeon, broke his neck in a freak accident on a surfboard during a family vacation in Hawaii four years ago. He said his implant has allowed him to take assisted measurements and regulate his blood pressure, but needs some maintenance.

“I can say that some of the programs I’ve had aren’t working very well right now and need to be updated,” Gill said.

He also understands that technology still has a long way to go.

“The biggest limitation is just the hardware of the technology. It can’t do much because it hasn’t been tailored more for that purpose. It’s kind of like the flip-phone version.”

Dr. Nasir Majeed flew in from Bangkok to oversee the remapping and was part of the medical team that installed Straschnitzki’s original pacemaker. He said the upgrade will ensure that the programs will continue to run smoothly.

“Perhaps not mapping from scratch, but rather changes that can improve function in patients,” said Majeed, medical director and head of research at Verita Neuro, a global provider of advanced brain injury treatments. spinal cord with clinics in Thailand and Mexico.

Majeed said his team will also train members of the Synaptic Spinal Cord Injury Treatment and Neurorehabilitation Center to do some of the maintenance and mapping themselves.

Uyen Nguyen, founder and executive director of Synaptic, said being able to provide the service in Calgary will make things easier for the clinic’s clients.

“Knowing that he has the potential to come to Canada and advance research – and ultimately improve the lives of people dealing with spinal cord injury – is absolutely exciting,” said- she declared.