PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Doctors at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital are making it possible for some quadriplegics to breathe on their own.

If the spinal cord injury is high enough, a patient is unable to breathe on his own, forcing him to be tethered to a ventilator. Dr. Michael Weinstein, assistant professor of surgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, says his is the only hospital in the commonwealth implanting the diaphragm pacer, which takes the place of a ventilator.

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“This device allows them to be freed from that device with a small pacing device, it allows for some mobility, allows for them to breathe more naturally, speak more easily and improves quality of life,” Weinstein says.

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One important benefit of the device is a reduced risk of infection. “A ventilator also has many downsides, in terms of very high rates of pneumonia and pulmonary infections in these patients, which the pacer seems to reduce quite effectively.”

The diaphragm pacer is similar to a cardiac pacemaker, providing electrical stimulation to the muscles and nerves in the diaphragm, allowing the patient to breathe on his own.

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Reported by Lynne Adkins, KYW Newsradio 1060