Preventing Paralysis

7/28/2008 MIAMI, Fla. Manny Gomez spent his life as a cop with the Miami Mounted Patrol. Two years ago, a fall off his horse changed his life.

"I lost balance and I came head first, slowly came down and I hit my head," Gomez says.

He hit the ground and felt his body disappear.

"My whole body was frozen. I couldn't move at all," he recalls.

Doctors said he'd never walk again.

"In seconds, your life changes, takes a complete change," Gomez says.

Then, his life changed again when he got an experimental treatment at the University of Miami. Within hours of his fall, doctors ran icy cold saline through Gomez's body, dropping his temperature to 92 degrees for two days.

"It protects those axons running up and down the spinal cord, which is extremely important in having the brain talk to your muscles and vice versa," says Dalton Dietrich III, Ph.D., Scientific Director with the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami in Florida.

Dr. Dietrich says cooling the body protects against the damage that follows the initial injury.

"If you can limit those secondary injuries, you can turn a complete injury possibly into an incomplete injury," Dr. Dietrich says.

That could mean the difference between walking and not walking. Early studies are promising.

"You need therapies that target multiple injury mechanisms and cooling a patient a couple degrees seems to work very, very well," Dr. Dietrich says.

It took Gomez a few months to walk again and he still goes to physical rehab, along with other patients. It's during those times he knows how lucky he is to be walking.

"People don't know what they have until they lose it," Gomez says. "Life taught me how to walk again."

The experimental treatment is still under study. It is also being tested on stroke and brain injury patients.

The Miami Project
(800) STAND-UP -- (800) 782-6387

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.