Medical device could prevent paralysis

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BRATTLEBORO -- A medical device invented more than 40 years ago could prevent paralysis, however many hospitals have stopped using it.

Thomas Hood, a 20 -year member of Rescue, Inc., said a backboard splint known as the Harrington Whole Body Splint, which was designed to safely transport people with neck injuries to the hospital, is more efficient than medical splints used today.

He said the device stopped being used in most hospitals in Vermont because it was made out of plywood and medical professionals said it should be made out of plastic.

"Because of all of the AIDS and blood pathogens today ... and the fact plywood can splinter after a while ... you can't take the chance of contamination," said Hood.

He could retrofit all of the material to an existing plastic board, but has to have a medical study to make sure it does what Hood and the board's designer, Walt Harrington, say it does.

"Walt Harrington designed the backboard 40-plus years ago specifically to help with ... surgical fractures in the field," said Hood.

He said the backboard splint could be more reliable when transporting a person with a neck injury using techniques to allow movement of the body as a whole, but keeping the neck secure.

"It offers dynamic cervical floatation for survival and spine injuries," said Hood. "It has that possibility of preventing somebody from being paralyzed, if handled properly."

The device would be used to help avoid any further damage to the injury.

"In a lot of cases, when you're transporting someone to the hospital, you end up doing more damage, and it's where the paralysis comes in," said Hood.

If the splint backboard is used at the scene of the incident, the recovery could be much faster, he said.

The Harrington whole body splint has body flaps designed to wrap around the body to provide maximum contact.

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"All of these flaps are designed so they can swivel like your body," he said.

Dr. John T. Chard, orthopedic surgeon at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, said back braces are often used to hold people in place that have suffered a spinal injury.

When a person has a neck injury and Rescue arrives to take them to the hospital, there are multiple ways to be transported.

"(Rescue Inc.) may put them in a brace or they may just use the rigid stretcher," said Chard. "The neck definitely is protected usually with a stiff collar that stays on until they've been evaluated by the emergency department."

He said it is vital to keep patients still because if you have an unstable injury to the neck, you can do damage to the spinal chord.

Chard said splints used for neck injuries have a wide range of uses.

"(The splints) can vary all the way from a soft collar, which is probably made out of felt, to a more rigid one that's made out of plastic padding," he said.

There are also specialty devices for people with a severely broken neck called the "Halo Brace."

"(The splint) uses pins that go through the skin and press against the skull bone which are then attached to a metal brace structure," said Chard.

He said the structure connects to a plastic device into the chest that gives rigid protection while waiting for the bones and neck to heal.

"(Movement) could end up causing paralysis, or making the paralysis worse than it would have been otherwise," said Chard.

Originally studied in 1969 at the University of Vermont, Hood said he has tried to present the Harrington Whole Body Splint to different hospitals, but kept being told a new study needed to be done on the backboard splint.

"It is so superior that it makes me sick that it's not being used," he said.


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