Keith Thomas, who became paralyzed from the chest down after a pool accident, has regained control over his hands through a groundbreaking medical study involving brain implants.
In the study conducted at Northwell Health's Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, Thomas underwent a surgery where five small chips were implanted into his brain in a procedure known as a double neuro bypass. The chips send and interpret signals between his brain, damaged spinal cord and hands, allowing him some movement.
"We are literally pulsing very intense electrical patterns, but very briefly, that activates those circuits, those damaged circuits that are in his spinal cord and then we believe it's starting to strengthen those connections. There's a saying that neurons that fire together, wire together," said engineer Chad Bouton, who leads the Neural Bypass Lab in New York.
Feeling anything at all is a significant milestone for Thomas, whose life changed forever three summers ago when he miscalculated a swimming pool's depth and took a dive that broke his neck. He was left paralyzed from the chest down at the age of 42, eliminating most independent movement.
Before the accident, independence was everything to Thomas, although he said he took it for granted. The former finance professional had an active social life, going out to dinner with clients almost every night of the week.
After the accident, his new reality was hard to face.
"When I first got home, I didn't get out of bed. I got out of bed once a day for six months," Thomas said. "I cried all the time. I was crying cause I didn't have independence."
Michelle Bennett, his sister, remained a constant source of support. The accident brought them closer and Bennett said even when Thomas was still in the hospital and intubated, she remained positive about her brother, because she witnessed glimmers of the fun-loving Thomas despite his challenges.
He kept his sense of humor, she said.
"In September, he goes, 'Michelle, I'm just so hungry.' Because he couldn't eat yet. He'd been hungry since August," she said.
But he watched the Food Network every day, Bennett said, laughing.
While he still has a long way to go, Thomas said he is experiencing small victories, including being able to scratch his face. He hopes to be able to wipe away his tears in the future.
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