Diaphragm Pacing & Christopher Reeve

Medical Author: Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editor: Leslie J. Schoenfield, M.D., Ph.D.

Online medical dictionaries have their limitations but one salient advantage they have over the standard print ones is nimbleness. A medical dictionary such as MedicineNet's MedTerms can be ever so nimble. It can incorporate a new word or term with alacrity.

Let's take one case in point. Yesterday (March 11, 2003) we read an article in The New York Times titled "Experiment Aims to Allow Paralyzed Actor to Breathe on Own." We found the story very moving. The paralyzed actor is Christopher Reeve. He recently had a new procedure done, which may free him from total dependence on a respirator.

The procedure is called diaphragm pacing. I had never heard of it but I thought it would be of interest to our viewers. So, after researching it, I created the following entry for MedTerms:

Diaphragm pacing: A procedure to help patients with spinal cord injuries to breathe. Their breathing is helped by setting the respiratory rate by electrical stimulation (pacing) of the phrenic nerve. The pacing is accomplished via electrodes surgically implanted into the diaphragm, which is innervated by the phrenic nerve.

This procedure is currently experimental. It is being tested in patients with injuries that cut across (transect) the cervical spinal cord high in the neck and result in paralysis of all four limbs (tetraplegia) and respiratory failure requiring chronic mechanical ventilatory support. For the procedure to work, the function of the phrenic nerve must be normal.