Sunday March 19 10:25 AM ET
STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - A paralyzed Frenchman took his first steps for ten years after a revolutionary operation to restore nerve functions using a microchip implant, newspapers reported Sunday.
Marc Merger, 39, who was paralyzed in a car accident, received the implant in February during a ground-breaking operation that doctors said gave new hope to thousands of paraplegics.
"An extraordinary emotion. Suddenly, we were not teaching a paraplegic to cope with a wheelchair, but to walk,'' Merger, 39, was quoted as saying in French regional daily L'Alsace.
"At the beginning, a week ago, I could stay standing for about two and a half minutes. Several sessions later, I was at six minutes and a half. I'm telling you, it's magic,'' Merger said.
Merger, a former bank manger who now works as a consultant at a university, received an initial implant in September, but had to go back into surgery when the chip developed a bug, L'Alsace said.
"At the beginning I felt enormous relief, because the operation had been okay. And I was enchanted by the magic of standing up. It's fantastic!'' he said after taking his first faltering steps Friday.
Merger said the treatment had been tough but he was determined to continue with the support of his wife and two children at his home in the northern city of Strasbourg.
"I will try, perhaps in six months, to stand up and walk around my house with a walking frame,'' he said.
Merger walks by pressing buttons on a walking frame which acts as a remote control for the chip, sending impulses through fine wires to stimulate his leg muscles, newspapers said.
Doctors who carried out the operation in the southeastern city of Montpellier said they had not repaired Merger's injury and the system would only work for paraplegics whose muscles had remained alive despite damage to their nerves.
"For the moment he is like a child learning to walk, but he should still make great progress within the next six months,'' said Pierre Rabischong, the head of the European Union-sponsored Stand Up And Walk research project which conducted the operation.
L'Alsace said two British, two Danish and two Italian doctors were among
the team that carried out the operation.