NEW JERSEY (Ivanhoe Newswire) – When someone suffers a severe spinal cord injury, most of us think of the impact on their arms and legs. But spinal cord injuries often affect breathing. In fact, breathing issues are the number one cause of death for a person with spinal cord injury. A New Jersey surgeon has pioneered a specialized procedure that restores the ability for some injured patients to breathe on their own again.

At age 29, William “Buddy” Marshall was living his childhood dream. After eight years as a naval aviator, he had just become a Top Gun instructor. His call sign was “Hipster.”

But six months into his new position, a driver fleeing police slammed into Buddy’s car at 100 miles an hour. He doesn’t even remember the accident.

“My day-to-day memory didn’t come back for about a month,” Buddy recalls.

The damage was done. He was paralyzed from the neck down and needed a ventilator to breathe. Dr. Matthew Kaufman, MD, FACS, a reconstructive surgeon at the Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore University Medical Center, is a pioneer in a specialized surgery that helps injured people breathe more easily by repairing the delicate phrenic nerves that run on either side of the diaphragm.

“The phrenic nerve’s job is to transmit the electrical impulse from our brain to cause the diaphragm to contract and to allow the lung to fill with air.,” Dr. Kaufman explains.

Using microscopic sutures, Dr. Kaufman reconstructed the nerves, which are the size of a strand of spaghetti.

Dr. Kaufman says, “Basically, we can get nerves to work again, similar to doing electrical rewiring in your house.”

In Buddy’s case, surgeons also implanted a stimulator to treat the diaphragm muscle and help it contract. While Buddy hasn’t regained mobility in the seven years since the accident, the phrenic nerve graft has improved his quality of life.

“Just the ease of living with spinal cord injury and being able to be off the vent when I need to is huge. You just have to take it day by day and aim for the good days,” Buddy emphasizes.

Buddy says he is not completely off the ventilator but has peace of mind knowing he can breathe without machinery. By the way, Buddy says his squadron gave him his call sign “Hipster” because he loved alternative music and good coffee.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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