LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A man traveled from California to Kentucky to take part in a research study that he says changed his life. Keith Smith was paralyzed from the chest down and couldn’t stand until he came to Louisville.
Smith was in a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed. He said doctors told him he would never stand again.
“When I was 23, I got on a motorcycle and I crashed and broke my neck and paralyzed from the chest down and you know, no feeling, no movement below my chest down and life’s been challenging and miserable for quite some time,” said Smith.
For 10 years he said he was in and out of the hospital trying to stay alive because spinal cord injuries come with more than paralysis.
“I was going to and from the hospital with random infections. You got to have a catheter put in your body. So you’re just always at risk of infection and your blood pressure is so low. So your heart’s struggling to maintain and keep up and after so long of experiencing that, your heart starts to take a toll,” said smith.
He says he got a second chance at life when he enrolled in a medical research study at the University of Louisville. For the first time in years, Smith could stand.
“I’m speechless when I’m standing up. I’m speechless, no doubt,” he said.
The researchers implanted an epidural stimulator onto his spinal cord and he saw dramatic improvements.
“Because of the device, I’m able to stand up, I’m able to move my legs, I’m able to tighten my core. I’m able to have my blood pressure get regulated,” Smith said.
Dr. Susan Harkema is a professor with the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at the University of Louisville. She is leading the research at UofL and said the epidural stimulator is not a cure, but the goal is to improve research participants’ quality of life.
“Our approach is to take all of these consequences. The ability to stand, move and even walk at some point, even blood pressure regulation, bowel [and] bladder regulation and use the stimulator in an integrated way to improve all of these things back toward normal,” said Harkema.
Smith, 38, said he is working toward being able to stand up on his own.
“I don’t even have the words for it. It’s almost like a second chance at life, even though I’m still paralyzed. I just I feel better, you know, my body’s healthier and I want to participate as much as I can because they’re getting real far with this stuff,” Smith said.
He said the research has been a dream come true.
The treatment is not available to the public because it is still experimental. Once it is proven safe and effective, the Food and Drug Administration will have to approve it. To take part in studies at UofL or other locations, visit Victory Over Paralysis.