Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
New Brunswick • Somerset

Rare Procedure Helps Paralyzed Man Breathe on Own

January 29, 2010
In a highly rare procedure for spinal cord injuries, a medical team led by Somerset Medical Center surgeon Matthew Kaufman, MD enabled a 51-year-old man to breathe on his own - without a ventilator - for the first time since becoming paralyzed. 

The multi-process procedure, which was performed on Edward Silcox of Langhorne, PA, was completed on Friday, January 22 at Somerset Medical Center. At that time, Dr. Kaufman activated a diaphragm pacemaker, which allowed Mr. Silcox to immediately breathe on his own. The procedure is also intended to improve Mr. Silcox’s speech, his ability to eat and will lower infection rates in his lungs.

“We are thrilled with Edward’s successful outcome, and the significant opportunity it represents for the thousands of people who suffer spinal cord injuries every year,” said Dr. Kaufman, who is currently the only surgeon in New Jersey to perform this procedure. “In addition to improved quality of life, eliminating the ventilator significantly reduces the risk of lung infection, which is a leading cause of death in spinal cord injuries.” 

The procedure followed an initial surgery on December 29, also at Somerset Medical Center, where Dr. Kaufman and his team performed a microsurgical decompression of the phrenic nerve and implanted the pacemaker. Through rehabilitation, Mr. Silcox will continuously be weaned off the respirator in order to replace his dependency on the ventilator. Mr. Silcox was paralyzed from the neck down as a result of a motorcycle accident in 2008.