This is an archived article that was published on in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Brooke Hopkins may be Utah's first spinal-cord injury patient to receive a diaphragmatic stimulator, or pacer, to help him breathe.

The device, recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, includes two electrodes that are attached some distance apart on the underside of each half of the diaphragm. An electric pulse is sent from the battery pack to make them fire. When they do, the diaphragms contract, pulling air into the lungs. This is the way healthy people breathe, not having air pushed into the lungs the way a mechanical ventilator operates.

The pacer typically is implanted through minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, rather than a full-scale operation. It is operated by a battery pack a patient would wear on a belt around his waist.

Before Hopkins can get the device, doctors will have to see if his phrenic nerve is intact and if firing the electrodes makes the diaphragm behave.

"This could be safer for Brooke and limit his potential for pulmonary issues," said Hopkins' doctor, Jeffrey Rosenbluth, a rehabilitation expert at the University of Utah. "It has allowed people to get off the ventilator completely."

- Peggy Fletcher Stack

Spinal cord injury facts & figures

The annual incidence of spinal cord injury (SCI), not including those who die at the scene of the accident, is approximately 40 cases per million population in the United States, or approximately 12,000 new cases a year.

The number of Americans who were alive in 2008 who have SCI is approximately 259,000 people.

Since 2005, the average age at injury was 40.2 years.

80.9 percent of spinal cord injuries reported to the national database have occurred among males.

Since 2005, 66.1 percent of those injured were Caucasian, 27.1 percent were African-American, 8.1 percent were Latino and 2 percent were Asian.

87.8 percent of all people with SCI who are discharged from the system are sent to a private, non-institutional residence (in most cases their homes before injury). Only 5.7 percent are discharged to nursing homes. The remaining are discharged to hospitals or group living situations.

Source: National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, Birmingham, Ala.