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Stunning Breakthrough Offers Hope for Paralyzed Spinal Cord Injury Patients

An electrical stimulation implant has helped four paralyzed men regain the ability to move their legs. 

The device, called an epidural spine stimulator, was implanted in the men as part of a study undertaken by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Louisville.

One of the patients in the study, Kent Stephenson, is from Mount Pleasant, Texas. At 21, he was involved in a motocross accident that left him without sensation or motor control from the chest down. Today, he can move his legs, stand on his own and distinguish between types of touch. In addition, he has regained sexual function, bowel control and bladder control.

In a video documenting his progress, Stephenson told the camera, “I feel like we’ve conquered a lot of things people thought were impossible.”

Only four men were involved in this study — meaning that so far, the success rate is 100 percent. A researcher told USA Today that it was too early to determine how effective the treatment would be for the general population.

Still, all four of the men had complete spinal cord injuries, and today all four are able to move their legs. One of the researchers behind the project was quoted as saying, “The belief that no recovery is possible and complete paralysis is permanent has been challenged.”

An article from CNN emphasized that the recovery of sexual function and bowel and bladder control are especially significant for many people who are paralyzed. According to the CNN report, a survey showed that regaining these functions was more important to most paralyzed people than regaining the ability to walk.

According to a news release from UCLA, nearly 1.3 million Americans suffer some form of paralysis associated with a spinal cord injury.  

The study was funded in part by Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, named for the deceased Superman actor Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed nearly 20 years ago after an equestrian accident.

Expert Links Football Players’ Concussions to Behavioral Problems, Slams NFL Settlement Deal

A brain injury expert from Boston University is speaking out for players he feels have been unfairly excluded from a settlement deal in the class action lawsuit against the NFL over the health effects of play-related brain injury.

Robert Stern filed an affidavit with the court and then took his story to the press, telling The Associated Press (AP) that the compensation in the settlement may be going to the wrong people.

Stern told AP reporters that behavioral problems, including domestic violence, drug addiction and suicide, can all be caused by chronic traumatic encephalopathy — also known as CTE — a condition caused by repetitive head trauma.

Right now, doctors cannot physically diagnose CTE until after a patient has died. As such, it has been difficult to link football and CTE.

But a recent report on that link is causing a stir. PBS Frontline recently went in-depth on a new report from Boston University and the Department of Veterans Affairs, who collaborate within a center that studies CTE. The center studied the brains of 79 deceased NFL players and found evidence of CTE in 76 of them.

In addition, the center studied a range of other football players — high school, college and semi-professional. All told, more than 80 percent of all football players studied showed signs of CTE.

In light of the findings, which suggest a very strong link between football and CTE, Stern was troubled by the settlement deal in the NFL concussion case. He told the AP that repetitive head trauma does not lead to Alzheimer’s disease — a condition covered by the settlement. But serious mood and behavior disorders, which are linked to repetitive head trauma and CTE, are not covered. As such, many players who suffer the symptoms of significant neurological damage from football could be left out of the settlement.

Some NFL players have already opted out of the class-action case in order to file individual lawsuits against the NFL, according to ABC News.

The class action lawsuit against the NFL was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and is case number 2:12-md-02323-AB.

At Some Texas Schools, Student Athletes Lack Crucial Catastrophic Care Insurance

High school sports, especially football, are a hallowed tradition in Texas. School districts in the state regularly set aside significant portions of their budgets for athletic programs.

Government purse strings may be loose for the sports programs themselves, but spending on medical insurance for student athletes is checkered at best in some of Texas’ metropolitan regions.

The risk of injury, including catastrophic injury, always hangs over high school sports events, particularly the rougher contact sports (including football). Many school districts provide catastrophic care insurance for students who experience serious accidents or illnesses while competing in school-sponsored sports. Policies typically carry high coverage ceilings in the millions of dollars to cover such life-changing events as brain or spinal cord injuries.

But catastrophic care insurance is not mandatory in Texas. Within the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan region, there are five school districts that do not provide coverage for catastrophic injury: Birdville, Burleson, Cedar Hill, Mansfield and Richardson.

When students do not have catastrophic coverage through their family insurance policies, the lack of a school district’s safety net can prove financially ruinous. Medical costs for the families of student athletes who suffer major injuries while competing can be staggering. With some school athletic program officials estimating that up to 65 percent of Dallas’ student athletes lack family health insurance, the ability to fall back on school-district-provided insurance can be crucial.

In the United States, there have been 468 nonfatal injuries that resulted in permanent, severe functional disability of high school athletes between 1982 and 2011. While catastrophic high school sports injuries are uncommon, the costs associated with them are enormous.

As an example, it has been estimated that the first-year cost of care for a patient with partial or total loss of the use of all limbs stands at $1,044,197. The cost of care for subsequent years rises by $181,328 annually.

By comparison, the cost of catastrophic care coverage is extremely small. Some insurance agents peg the cost of a policy at no more than $2,000 per year for the average school district.

“It’s incredible how many Texas kids have no insurance,” said Kent Holbert, an insurance agent for Texas Student Resources. “I certainly think [catastrophic care insurance] is a minute cost compared to some of the other budgetary items they have.”