Wake Forest Baptist Performs Its First Diaphragmatic Pacing System Procedure

April 16, 2013

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has a new tool in its arsenal to slow the progression of respiratory failure in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Shayn Martin, M.D., a specially trained surgeon, recently performed Wake Forest Baptist's first diaphragmatic pacing system procedure.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in both the brain and spinal cord.

One functional loss that most individuals with ALS experience is the ease of breathing. As the diaphragm weakens, it cannot contract adequately to provide a full inspiration so shortness of breath develops.

The diaphragmatic pacing system stimulates the diaphragm to produce a contraction that assists with breathing and helps to condition the muscle against further decline in strength. The system was approved for patients with ALS by the Food and Drug Administration in November 2011.

“The diaphragmatic pacing system appears to strengthen the respiratory muscles and may provide up to 16 months of additional longevity in a disease that typically results in death in three years,” said James Caress, M.D., associate professor of neuromuscular conditions at Wake Forest Baptist. “This easily surpasses the roughly three month survival advantage that is provided by taking the only known effective medicine for ALS.”

This permanent medical device, which mimics properties of the cardiac pacemaker, is implanted in the abdomen region through a laparoscopic procedure and stimulates the diaphragm muscle through an electrical current setting that is determined by the ALS Center’s team at Wake Forest Baptist.

“I can’t thank Dr. Caress, Dr. Martin and all of the nurses enough,” said Michael Earnhardt of Salisbury, one of the recipients of the diaphragmatic pacing system. “This quick and positive procedure has strengthened my breathing. My voice is stronger, and I feel better overall.”

The pacing system was developed by physicians and engineers from University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center. It is marketed by Synapse Biomedical Inc. under the trade name NeuRx Diaphragm Pacing System.

Media Relations

Mac Ingraham: mingraha@wakehealth.edu, 336-716-3487

Chad Campbell: news@wakehealth.edu, 336-713-4587