For stroke victims, new procedure at Atlantic Health can help restore more hand/arm function

System is 1st in state to offer rehabilitation therapy using Vivistim, an implanted device that helps generate more nerve stimulation

Advance care planning can reduce anxiety and be life-affirming.

Regaining full use of your body after a stroke long has been a challenge for many. Atlantic Health System feels it is taking steps to change that.

Atlantic recently announced that it has become the first health system in New Jersey to use a revolutionary technique called the Vivistim Paired VNS Therapy, an FDA-approved, breakthrough technology for stroke survivors experiencing ongoing hand and arm impairment.

Here’s how it works:

  • Vivistim, a small device created by Texas biotechnology company MicroTransponder, is implanted in a patient’s upper chest area during an outpatient procedure.
  • During rehabilitation therapy, a therapist uses a wireless transmitter that communicates with proprietary software to signal the Vivistim device to deliver a gentle pulse to the vagus nerve while the stroke survivor performs a specific task, such as putting on a hat, brushing hair or cutting food.
  • The simultaneous pairing of the rehabilitation exercise with vagus nerve stimulation releases neuromodulators that help create or strengthen neural connections to improve upper limb function and increase the relevance of physical or occupational therapy.
  • Vivistim Paired VNS Therapy aims to generate 2-3 times more hand and arm function for ischemic stroke survivors than traditional rehabilitation therapy alone.
  • Since many stroke patients stop seeing the return of function after the first year or so of recovery after their stroke, the Vivistim device offers a potential alternative to recover additional function.

David Scott, manager, Atlantic Rehabilitation Outpatient Services, describes it this way:

“The idea behind Paired VNS therapy with Vivistim is akin to giving our traditional rehabilitation techniques a boost from within, by strengthening the patient’s abilities through nerve stimulation,” he said. “This approach can exponentially enhance a patient’s chances of recovering function during therapy.”

Rehabilitation therapists at Atlantic’s Newton Medical Center and Atlantic Rehabilitation in New Providence have been specially trained to use Vivistim in therapy. So far, it’s proving to be effective.

The first patient to be treated with the device at Atlantic Health, a Succasunna woman in her 60s who experienced a stroke in 2020, had the device implanted in February and began her rehabilitation using the device in March at Newton Medical Center. She began seeing hand function start to return within two therapy sessions and even more function in successive weeks by using the Vivistim device in sessions and at home.

Dr. John Hanna, a vascular neurologist who is the medical director of Atlantic Health System’s Comprehensive Stroke Center at Overlook Medical Center, said the treatment can have tremendous impact.

“Stimulating the vagus nerve directly in conjunction with traditional rehabilitation can open doorways to regain function that many patients had thought closed,” he said. “It’s an incredible approach, which we believe can drastically improve the quality of stroke patients’ lives.”

About MicroTransponder

MicroTransponder Inc. is a privately held, global medical device company based in Austin, Texas, that says it is committed to developing research-based neuroscience solutions. The company focuses on restoring dignity for people suffering from neurological conditions that impair sensory and motor function.

Dr. Ronald Benitez, a neurosurgeon and chair of endovascular neurosurgery at Overlook, said having treatments such as Vivistim matches the mission of Atlantic Health.

“We are dedicated to bringing leading-edge, potentially life-changing treatment approaches to stroke survivors throughout New Jersey,” he said. “Our passion for ensuring our patients have access to the most innovative therapeutic options was a key driver behind our comprehensive stroke center being able to give these patients a renewed sense of hope with the Vivistim system.”

Atlantic Health System has a longstanding history of being a leader in stroke care in New Jersey. The Atlantic Neuroscience Institute, based at Overlook, includes the first state-designated Comprehensive Stroke Center.

MicroTransponder CEO Richard Foust is thrilled to be working with Atlantic Health.

“This collaboration with Atlantic Health System to incorporate Vivistim therapy into their clinical care is remarkable and revives hope for stroke survivors who want more significant improvement of their hand and arm function so that they can get back to doing the things they enjoy,” he said.