Long-term experience with diaphragm pacing for traumatic spinal cord injury: Early implantation should be considered

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Cervical spinal cord injury can result in catastrophic respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation with high morbidity, mortality, and cost. Diaphragm pacing was developed to replace/decrease mechanical ventilation. We report the largest long-term results in traumatic cervical spinal cord injury.


In this retrospective review of prospective institutional review board protocols, all patients underwent laparoscopic diaphragm mapping and implantation of electrodes for diaphragm strengthening and ventilator weaning.


From 2000 to 2017, 92 patients out of 486 diaphragm pacing implants met the criteria. The age at time of injury ranged from birth to 74 years (average: 27 years). Time on mechanical ventilation was an average of 47.5 months (range, 6 days to 25 years, median=1.58 years). Eighty-eight percent of patients achieved the minimum of 4 hours of pacing. Fifty-six patients (60.8%) used diaphragm pacing 24 hours a day. Five patients had full recovery of breathing with subsequent diaphragm pacing removal. Median survival was 22.2 years (95% confidence interval: 14.0–not reached) with only 31 deaths. Subgroup analysis revealed that earlier diaphragm pacing implantation leads to greater 24-hour use of diaphragm pacing and no need for any mechanical ventilation.


Diaphragm pacing can successfully decrease the need for mechanical ventilation in traumatic cervical spinal cord injury. Earlier implantation should be considered.

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