"Breathing pacemaker" helps girl breathe on her own

8:40 PM, Apr 11, 2011   |    comments
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  • Phoenix Weaver
  • Phoenix Weaver

By Kay Quinn

St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - The hope is that Phoenix Weaver, who is paralyzed from the neck down, may soon be able to time free of her ventilator for the first time in years.

A car accident three years ago near her home in Nixa, Missouri, left seven-year-old Phoenix, unable to use her arms, legs or even breath on her own. But now there's hope she will one day soon breathe without the help of a ventilator, at least during the day.

"We're all about anything that can make things better for her and she's always been a little bit of a trailblazer so we're not stopping her," says Phoenix's mother, Cassie Weaver.

What Phoenix's family is pinning their hopes on is something called a breathing pacemaker.

"A breathing pacemaker works by stimulating the nerves that go to the diaphragm which is the muscle involved with breathing," says Dr. Charles Huddleston, a cardiothoracic surgeon at St. Louis Children's Hospital.

Because Phoenix's nerves are still intact, yet no longer send messages to her diaphragm, she's a perfect candidate for the device that's attached to those nerves in her chest. But it's a small computer on the outside and electrodes worn against the skin that tell the pacemaker how slow or fast Phoenix should breathe, just like a pacemaker makes hearts beat at regular intervals.

"Any amount that she can get off the vent is great," says Cassie. "For her to be able to go to school without the hoses attached and to drag those around-more independence."

Phoenix is still trying to get used to the device, and would still use the ventilator at night. But during the day, her ventilator is turned off for longer periods to get her diaphragm used to working again.

"So far so good!" says Cassie.

Phoenix is at a rehab facility as she continues to test her ability to use the breathing pacemaker.
But she's now able to breathe without her ventilator for about five-and-a-half hours at a time.



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