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Remarkable Medical Device Appears To Help Paralyzed Patients Walk Again

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A new medical device appears to be able to help paralyzed people walk again.

The results are still early, but they're so remarkable, it could be a game changer.

CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez says it's a newer version of electrical stimulation for the spine.

No one ever thought Michael Roccati would be able to walk on his own or go share a drink with friends. In 2017, he was paralyzed after a motorcycle accident.

"I tried to move my legs. I try to change my position. This was impossible, to do nothing. I fixed in my mind that it was just a situation, so I put on my mind and my behavior to try to solve this problem and I never stopped," Roccati said.

Now, he can walk about a mile without assistance thanks to a new device. It sends electrical impulses to his spinal cord and he can control it through his computer.

Scientists have been researching electrical stimulation as a treatment for paralysis for decades.

In 2014 at the University of Louisville, early versions of similar technology allowed patients to wiggle their toes, move their knees and even stand up. Then, after months of rehab, some of them even began walking.

The newest stimulator, this one from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, can reach more of the spinal cord and allow people to regain movement on the same day that they received the spinal implant.

"This technology is so precise that immediately after the surgery, the patient can walk and stand," surgeon Jocelyne Bloch said.

Within a week, three patients, men between the ages of 29-41, including Roccati, were able to walk. Their cases are detailed in a study published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine.

It took five months of rehabilitation, but the patients were walking, riding bikes and even boxing.

"With crutches, I can stand up to take a shower. With the walker, I am free. I can walk wherever I want," Roccati said.

So far, only three patients have received these implants. The plan is to test it on 50-100 more to make sure it's safe and to see if it works better in some people than in others. The hope is to have the device widely available in three to four years.

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