New technology to better lives of ALS sufferers

Jasmine Al Kuttab/Dubai
Filed on August 6, 2017
New technology to better lives of ALS sufferers
Dr Raymond P Onders

The machine is surgically attached to the patient's diaphragm via a series of electrodes and remains outside the patient's body, where he or she can manually control it

The first Diaphragm Pacing Machine surgery was conducted in the UAE on Sunday.

The "30-minute" surgery is set to change the lives of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patients, who have been living on heavy ventilating machines for a majority of their lives, claim doctors.

The machine - a technological breakthrough - is surgically attached to the patient's diaphragm via a series of electrodes and remains outside the patient's body, where he or she can manually control it. The 32-year-old Emirati man, who was the first in the UAE to receive the machine, suffers from ALS after a traumatic spinal injury, leaving him paralysed from the neck down.

World renowned American general surgeon Dr Raymond P. Onders told Khaleej Times that the revolutionary system technique takes only 30 minutes to complete. "This is the first implant in the UAE. The patient we operated on today has been on a ventilator for ten years. It's an external device that we turn on and the patient will be able to breathe," Dr Onders said.

The Professor of Surgery at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and the Director of Minimally Invasive Surgery at University Hospitals Case Medical Center, who once operated on the late actor Christopher Reeve, who became paralysed from the neck down. "Superman actor Christopher Reeve had this exact operation years ago. Children can also now get off heavy and noisy ventilators, which will change the lives of the entire family," the doctor said. The cost of traditional heavy ventilators cost a whopping US $150,000 each year for patients; however, the new system costs an average of US $60,000.

"What is remarkable about this machine is that it will give us the chance to really enhance the quality of life of so many of our patients in the UAE who are afflicted with ALS or SCI," said Dr Nehad Nabil Halawa, specialist - Anesthesia and Deputy Medical Director at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi. "Unlike traditional mechanical ventilation which is big, heavy and noisy, this new technology allows the patient to be more mobile and independent, improves the ability to talk, and restores smell and taste."

ALS' staggering statistics

According to US population studies, approximately 6,000 people are diagnosed with ALS, a degenerative motor function disease that attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, ultimately weakening the muscles and resulting in death each year.

The incidence of ALS is two per 100,000 people, and it is estimated that more than 20,000 Americans may be living with ALS at any given time. Most patients will develop the condition between the ages of 40 and 70, with an average age of 55 at the time of diagnosis. However, cases of the disease are occuring in people in their twenties and thirties. It is estimated that as many as 20,000 people have the disease, at any given time.

According to the ALS CARE Database, 60 per cent of ALS patients are men.

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