Is it a medical miracle when a paralyzed man walks again? It would seem so. Or is it pure science?
Last week the story of Rob Summers, age 25, hit the news. His spine severely damaged in the upper back (level T1) by a motor vehicle accident in 2006, Summers became part of a study conducted by researchers at the University of Louisville and UCLA. An electrical stimulator was implanted in his spine, and after months of training and therapy he was able to move his legs, stand and even take a few steps.
This is certainly a testament to scientific discovery and high tech solutions, but it is also an example of a man’s perseverance, belief in himself, and willpower to overcome a physical limitation. In my new book, I call this “the inner pulse.”
It brings to mind my patient “Brian Solomon,” who was confined to a wheelchair for many months due to a muscle wasting disease known as inclusion body myositis. He was told that he would never walk again. But he said he was owed $2 million by a lawyer for whom he had worked for over 10 years, solving personal injury cases. The lawyer refused to pay, no doubt believing that Brian was in no condition to collect.
The more his health needs increased, the angrier Brian became, thinking of how useful the money would be to help him and his sick wife. Brian developed a plan to attack the man and demand his money or have his revenge.
I thought he was homicidal and I called in two different psychiatrists, both of whom scoffed at the idea because Brian was physically incapable of getting his plan to work.
But as I wrote in my book "The Inner Pulse; Unlocking the Secret Code of Sickness and Health," in the fall of 2000, Brian proved them wrong by wheeling his wheelchair up to the lawyer’s office in Brooklyn and then rising out of it to confront his adversary. Brian produced a gun, and when the lawyer still refused to pay, Brian shot him, but because of the weakness in his arms he was only able to lift the gun high enough to shoot the man in the foot.
Afterwards, the man was taken to the hospital while Brian landed in jail. He remained there until I wrote an affidavit that he was medically unfit to serve his sentence. He was then released, his anger now dissipated, though his money was never recovered.
Was Brian’s case of rising out of a wheelchair a medical miracle? It would seem so. There are other stories like this one, including the time when, back in 2007, Tatiana the tiger became so enraged by tormentors at the San Francisco Zoo that she jumped out of a 12 foot pit and over a restraining wall. This was believed to be impossible.
There is also science behind it. The quadricep (thigh) muscles in the legs are among the most inhibited by the brain; meaning that during a time of high emotion or duress this inhibition may be overcome by a strong impulse coming from the brain.
Mind over matter or miracle, sometimes we can accomplish the unexpected. David Blaine, the endurance artist, told me that this can be done through great concentration and training. You come to know your body and how far you can push it under the most extreme circumstances, Blaine told me. Clearly both Rob Summers and my patient Brian have this intense concentration in common.
Marc Siegel, M.D. is an associate professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Medical Center. He is a Fox News Medical Contributor and author of the several books, his latest is "The Inner Pulse: Unlocking the Secret Code of Sickness and Health."