Boy, 10, Is Youngest Person to Get 'Christopher Reeve' Breathing Device

A 10-year-old boy paralyzed in a car crash became the youngest person to receive a device tested by the late "Superman" actor Christopher Reeve that allows patients to breathe without a ventilator, a hospital said Friday.

The implantable device forces breathing by electrically stimulating the muscles and nerves that run through the body's diaphragm.

Friday's surgery on Alex Malarkey at University Hospitals Case Western Reserve Medical Center lasted about an hour.

The boy took strong breaths for about five minutes to test the device before returning to the ventilator and going into recovery, said Dr. Raymond Onders, who performed the surgery.

Onders said the boy will gradually be weaned off the ventilator while increasing the time he is able to breathe without it.

Malarkey, a fifth-grader from the small central Ohio town of Huntsville, was paralyzed from the neck down in a 2004 car crash.

Reeve tested the device about five years ago. The Food and Drug Administration in June approved it for use on adults and gave the Cleveland hospital special permission for Malarkey's surgery.

Onders said the two previous youngest patients were both 17, and the procedures were done in Atlanta and Houston.

The device, developed by Synapse Biomedical Inc. of Oberlin, Ohio, allows some spinal cord injury patients to breathe for at least a few hours each day without a ventilator.

Reeve was paralyzed from the neck down in a horseback riding accident in 1995. He died in 2004 after developing a bloodstream infection from a bedsore.