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How a Tongue Piercing May Help People with Spinal Cord Injuries

April 17, 2014 at 10:52 AM

Working in a complex injury team I have encountered people who have suffered the most horrific spinal injuries, many of which resulted in permanent paralysis.

1960s picture of user operating a electric communication device in the form of a sip-and-puff controller

Their life and the lives of their family are turned upside down. With care requirements, home adaptations and countless other new considerations, their lifestyle is far removed from that they experienced prior to the injury. And just one of the many new challenges they face is learning how to use and navigate a powered wheelchair.

Most people with spinal cord injuries still have facial movement, so their assistive equipment is usually controlled through sip and puff technology, where signals are sent to a device by 'sipping' (inhaling) or 'puffing' (exhaling) on a straw inserted in the mouth.

This technology has been around since the 60s and has helped many people achieve a good level of independence. However innovation is never far away...

Tongue Guided Wheelchair

As most people with spinal injuries can still move their tongue, researchers at Georgia Tech have developed something called 'The Tongue Drive System'. This technology lets people who are paralysed from the neck down drive a wheelchair using only their tongue.

It works via a tongue piercing with a magnetic stud that resembles jewellery but acts like a joystick. This has been developed in the hope that it will offer more mobility and independence for those people currently using other kinds of adaptive equipment.

So far 11 people have tested the device all of which were tetraplegic (partial or total loss of use of their limbs and torso). The device was compared against the current leading assistive technology which uses sip-and-puff control and the tongue drive system was found to be just as accurate and even a little faster.

See the person, not just the equipment

Jason Disanto was left paralysed from the neck down after a diving accident in 2009 and had to learn how to use a wheelchair controlled using the sip-and-puff system.

He agreed to test the new 'Tongue Drive System', alongside the research team and provide feedback. Jason has agreed to participate in the next round of testing and said:

"The Tongue Drive System will greatly increase my quality of life when I can start using it everywhere I go. With the sip-and-puff system, there is always a straw in front of my face. With the Tongue Drive, people can see you, not just your adaptive equipment."

Dr Ghovanloo, a biomedical engineer who created the new system plans ultimately to add additional functionality, enabling users to turn on the TV or the light with a flick of the tongue!


Independence and Quality of Life

At the moment the Tongue Drive System can only be used inside research laboratories, as thorough testing is needed in more real life situations before it can be sold. However it clearly offers hope for people like Jason to gain a greater degree of independence compared to the assistive technology currently available.

Innovations like this can be life changing for people with spinal injuries, allowing them to improve their quality of life at home and in the community.

About the author

Laura Reaney photoLaura Reaney is a litigator within Spencers Solicitors Complex Injury team. Laura has extensive experience in dealing with claimants that have complex and serious injuries, and over the years has worked on various cases including those involving back and spinal injuries.

Posted in: Blog

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Spencers named a 'commended employer' in CILEx Awards

April 9, 2014 at 5:30 PM

Spencers Solicitors have been commended in the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) Awards for 2013. The awards were presented at the CILEx annual graduation ceremony held on Monday 7 April 2014 at King's House, Bedford.

CILEx is a professional body representing over 20,000 Chartered Legal Executives in the UK. The Institute offer a unique route to becoming a qualified lawyer without the pre-requisite of a law degree. Those studying CILEx receive on the job training in Solicitors' offices whilst also attending classes in law and practice at accredited academic centres or via distance learning.

Spencers received the special mention after being nominated in this year's CILEx Employer of the Year Award.

Chartered Institute of Legal Executives logo

Noel Inge Managing Director of CILEx Law School and sponsor of the award said:

"Given the very high standards set by employers, it is always difficult to pick a clear winner. This year has produced a crop of very strong entries, characterised by their progressive staff development policies which embrace the CILEx qualification amongst other forms of training.

The judges have been struck by how committed these employers are to providing opportunities for staff, many of them offering career pathways for school leavers and mature entrants to the professions irrespective of their initial qualifications. It is heartening to see these employers demonstrate their commitment to diversity and opportunity through their employment policies."

Kelly Pashley-Handford, Human Resource Manager at Spencers commented:

"As a firm we are committed to staff development and actively support staff to pursue the CILEx qualification route. We find that CILEx offers the most flexible route for obtaining a legal qualification and we benefit greatly from employing Chartered Legal Executives at all levels, from Paralegals to Board Members.

Spencers Solicitors has been an authorised CILEx examination centre since September 2009 and over a third of employees are Chartered Legal Executives or students of CILEx.

Posted in: News


3D Printing Reshapes Life of Accident Victim

March 28, 2014 at 12:52 PM

I recently read an uplifting story about the survivor of a serious motorbike accident and how pioneering technology has helped his path to recovery.

Motorcycling accidents can result in extremely serious and life changing injuries, and recovery is often a long term process involving many different treatments and rehabilitation therapies. So any innovations in this field deserve our attention.

Stephen Power from Cardiff was involved in a road accident back in 2012. Despite wearing a crash helmet he suffered multiple injuries to his cheek bones, eye sockets, upper jaw and skull. He also suffered serious injuries to both his arms and right leg which required a bone graft.

Following the accident he underwent emergency life saving surgery at the Morriston Hospital in Swansea but unfortunately doctors were unable to reconstruct the left hand side of his face. He had serious damage to his left eye and the surgeons were reluctant to carry out any treatment as there was a risk of them causing further damage to his sight. Unfortunately this meant that his cheekbone was left too far out and his eye was sunk in and dropped.

Pioneering Surgery Techniques

The following year Mr Power agreed to undergo pioneering surgery using techniques developed by the National Centre for Product Design and Development Research at Cardiff Metropolitan University and the Maxillofacial team at Morriston Hospital.

The purpose of the surgery was to correct the appearance by cutting and moving facial bones. To offer the optimum outcome, computer aided design and 3D printing technique was required. Once Mr Power's eye had healed the doctors scanned 3D images of his face to design replica bones. The replica bones were made from layers of medical-grade titanium which were carefully crafted into the precise shapes of Mr Power's own bones.

Mr Power then underwent surgery at the Morriston Hospital in Swansea where his cheekbones had to be re-fractured before his face was re-built. The operation took around 8 hours to complete with a multi-disciplinary team of doctors on board to assist with the procedure.

Mr Power is thought to be one of the first trauma patients in the world to have 3D printing used at every stage of the procedure. Maxillofacial surgeon Adrian Sugar said that the 3D printing took away the guesswork that can usually be very problematic in reconstructive work.

This medical marvel has now given Mr Power the confidence to be able to go out in public. Prior to the surgery he would leave the house wearing a hat and glasses to mask his injuries. Now he feels that he no longer needs to disguise himself or hide away.

I hope this latest technology advancement will result in greater use of 3D imaging within the NHS and be of real benefit to people born with facial deformities or who have suffered facial injuries from an accident like Mr Power.


About the author

Laura Reaney photoLaura Reaney is a litigator within Spencers Solicitors Complex Injury team. Laura has extensive experience in dealing with claimants that have complex and serious injuries, and over the years has worked on various claim types including those caused in road accidents.

Posted in: Blog


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