Bill Kochevar hasn’t been able to move anything from his shoulders down for the past eight years, and he didn’t think he ever would again.
But the 56-year-old Cleveland man can now lift his arm and hand, drink a cup of water, eat a pretzel stick and fork mashed potatoes from a bowl into his mouth.
The source of his seemingly miraculous movements? His own thoughts, with some high-tech help from medical science.
As part of an ongoing collaboration of the BrainGate Co. and Case Western Reserve University, among other medical institutions, Kochevar has two transmitters the size of baby aspirins implanted in his brain.
The devices translate Kochevar’s brain signals into electrical stimulations to his far away muscles — allowing him move his right arm and hand simply by thinking about it.
"I’m making it move without having to really concentrate hard on it," he told medical investigators, according to an article published this week in The Lancet.
"For somebody who’s been injured eight years and couldn’t move, being able to move just that little bit is awesome to me,” he said. "It’s better than I thought it would be."
He was left a quadriplegic after slamming into the back of a mail truck while biking in a 150-mile run during a rainstorm. The van stopped to deliver a package, and he skidded straight into the rear door.
Since then, Kochevar has required constant care.
“People have to do stuff for me that I can’t do myself. They have to turn me every two hours," he said. "If I want water, they have to get me water."
But at least now, he can drink it by himself.
"This research has enhanced my ability to do things," he said.
"He’s really breaking ground for the spinal cord injury community," said Bob Kirsch, chair of the college’s department of biomedical engineering and senior author of the research.
"This is a major step toward restoring some independence."
The "neuro-prosthetic" apparatus is believed to be the first of its kind.
Scientists have spent more than a decade developing the device, and it will take more research to expand the technology for use on other limbs.
As of now, the apparatus can only be used in a lab setting and is reliant on wires that pass through skin and the skull.
But for Kochevar, it's a life-changer.
"I’m still wowed every time I do something," he said. "Amazing.”