Hackensack Meridian Neuroscience Institute at Jersey Shore offers new treatment to improve stroke survivors’ mobility

Young nurse putting the bandage on elder woman's hand

Hackensack Meridian Neuroscience Institute at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune completed its first breakthrough technology case with a stroke survivor who has yet to regain her desired hand and arm function after five years of traditional physical and occupational therapy.

The expert team of medical professionals believe it is possible for 67-year-old Donna Bilella of Ocean to achieve life-changing recovery with MicroTransponder Inc.’s Vivistim Paired VNS System, an FDA-approved, breakthrough technology that employs vagus nerve stimulation during rehabilitation therapy to help generate two to three times more hand and arm function for ischemic stroke survivors than rehabilitation therapy alone.

“Just an improvement in being able to perform day-to-day activities would be great,” Bilella said. “But, as a longtime piano player and music teacher, I would love to be able to simply play the piano again.”

To initiate the VNS Therapy, the small Vivistim device was placed in Bilella’s upper left chest area late November, during an outpatient procedure performed by Dr. Shabbar Danish, chair of neurosurgery, Hackensack Meridian Neuroscience Institute at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, and Dr. Neil Majmundar, cerebrovascular neurosurgery, Department of Neurosurgery, JSUMC.

During rehabilitation therapy, a therapist uses a wireless transmitter 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, etc.

Vagus nerve stimulation releases neuromodulators that, when paired with rehabilitation exercise, help create or strengthen neural connections to improve upper limb function and increase the relevance of physical therapy.

“We’re proud to be among the first in New Jersey and one of less than 30 locations throughout the nation to offer stroke survivors this groundbreaking technology to enhance their quality of life,” Danish said. “The science behind Paired VNS Therapy is impressive because it can help increase neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, to help the brain relearn movements.”

Bilella is among the 60% of stroke survivors who experience upper limb issues for six months or longer after their stroke. Paired VNS Therapy, the first new treatment option for stroke survivors in 20 years, has been clinically proven to help progress upper limb rehabilitation during the chronic phase.

While VNS has been an extensively researched treatment option for epilepsy and depression for more than 25 years, the Vivistim System is the first application of it in rehabilitation therapy and to help neuroplasticity.

“We are now part of the team of 30 institutions throughout the country collaborating on studies to assess and improve outcomes of stroke survivors in the chronic phase,” Dr. Ghasan Ahmad, interventional neuroradiologist for the Hackensack Meridian Neuroscience Institute at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, said.

“It’s an exciting time for Jersey Shore’s Neuroscience Institute as we continue to expand our world-class patient services and add highly specialized clinicians and advanced medical technologies,” Dr. Kenneth Sable, regional president, Southern Market, Hackensack Meridian Health, said.