In patients with ventilator-dependent tetraplegia, phrenic nerve pacing (PNP) provides significant clinical advantages compared with mechanical ventilation. This technique however generally requires a thoracotomy with its associated risks and in-patient hospital stay and carries some risk of phrenic nerve injury. We have developed a method by which the phrenic nerves can be activated via intramuscular diaphragm electrodes. In one patient with ventilator-dependent tetraplegia, two intramuscular diaphragm electrodes were implanted into each hemidiaphragm near the phrenic nerve motor points via laparoscopic surgery. The motor points were identified employing a previously devised mapping technique. Because inspired volumes were suboptimal on the right, a second laparoscopic procedure was necessary to position electrodes near the anterior and posterior branches of the right phrenic nerve. During bilateral stimulation, inspired volume was 580 ml. After a reconditioning program of progressively increasing diaphragm pacing, maximum inspired volumes on the left and right hemidiaphragms increased significantly. Maximum combined bilateral stimulation was 1120 ml. Importantly, the patient has been able to comfortably tolerate full-time pacing. If confirmed in additional patients, PNP with intramuscular diaphragm electrodes via laparoscopic surgery may provide a less invasive and less costly alternative to conventional PNP.
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