How experimental surgery in Thailand changed one Canadian’s life track

Ryan Straschnitzki was on a journey to become a pro hockey player, when an inexperienced big rig operator missed a stop sign and nearly took his life.

After the fact, 19 months later, Straschnitzki undergoes a relatively common medical proceedure in Bangkok, Thailand. Unique Access Medical (UAM), a company with treatment backed by Joint Commission International (JCI), is responsible for epidural stimuation. ES is a process wherein electrical current is sent up the spinal chord of a patient to activate nerves. It has been described as a pacemaker for the spine. As for the accreditation of the UA medical hospital, the JCI is “the gold standard in global healthcare accreditation,” which stands to say they know what they’re doing.

A tweet from Tom Straschnitzki posted on November 15, shows doctor Nasir Majeed from UA holding an X-ray scan. The device used is an Epidural Stimulation machine, with electrode arrays, and powered by a battery, shown to the right of the T11 and T12 regions of Ryan’s spine. The circuits below the injury site are activated once a current passes through, enabling movement.

Three days after the surgery, and Ryan reports his core muscles are indeed moving voluntarily, with the battery running on the device.

Currently, a few Canadians and a handful of Americans have traveled to Thailand to experience the surgery. The stimulation device can cost an upwards of 20,000 to 30,000 dollars, and without insurance, more. Luckily for Straschnitzki, the Straz Strong Foundation helped considerably in the fund raising going into the costs, as well as revenue from Stranz hat sales.

David Darrow is chief of neurosurgery at University of Manitoba, and he says “To date, this is the really first thing that seems to be really promising,” in reference to the positive reports Straschnitzki gave from Thailand.

The purpose of regaining mobility would be thereason for licencing, however ES devices are only licensed for pain relief. Now, procedures are conducted in Minneapolis under Dr. Darrow’s research.

If Canada would allow this procedure in most provinces, the benefits are obvious. Unfortunately, however, provinces like Alberta do not cover it, as the surgery is still labelled “experimental,” even though progress and success rates have climbed since the inception of the studies for ES in 2011. Provincial and territorial jurisdiction is what is holding back approval for the stimulation devices according to Tom McMillan, a spokesperson for Alberta Health.

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