Meg's Story: Local Teen Receives Diaphragmatic Pacemaker - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Meg's Story: Local Teen Receives Diaphragmatic Pacemaker

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Part I- The Injury

Meg Throckmorton's story is one of a terrible injury and an amazing recovery. In the middle of that story is West Virginia University hospitals and an innovative procedure.

Meg is a teenager who lives in Waynesburg, Pa. This April, she was practicing for a dance recital at her mom's studio, In Motion Dance + Fitness.

"I was here in this room, practicing for my solo with one of my friends that I always dance with," Meg said. "I was practicing and I had done a round-off back tuck probably ten times that day, same thing over and over again."

Only this time something went wrong.

Meg's mom, Dolly remembers when it happened.

"I heard a, like a thud," she said.

 Meg had fallen and landed on her head. Her friend ran for help and her mother, Dana, who was a nurse helped administer C-P-R.

"(Meg) was actually starting to turn blue when we decided to make the move," Meg's dad, John, recalls, "and Dana walked us through that entire process and basically saved her life."

 The fall fractured Meg's C-2 vertebra. She couldn't move her legs or arms and she couldn't breathe.

"We knew as soon as Meg arrived that she was in a little bit of trouble," said Dr. Jennifer Knight, a surgeon who was on call at Ruby Memorial Hospital when Meg was brought in.

Meg was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where doctors and surgeons were able to find the fractures to her spine and have her in surgery within hours to repair it.

"But the spinal chord injuries and the damage was already done," Dr. Knight said.

Her spinal chord wasn't severed, but it was bruised badly enough that Meg was still paralyzed just as if it had been severed.

It was a bleak picture for Meg's family.

"They just, you know, thought she would be on a ventilator for the rest of her life," Dolly said. "She wouldn't really have any movement from that point of injury down which would be from the shoulders down, she might get some shoulder movement but that would be about it."

Dr. Knight saw Meg as a good candidate for a diaphragmatic pacemaker, though, which would help her eventually get off of the ventilator.

"I knew when I saw Meg and she had the injuries that she had and she wasn't going to be able to breathe immediately the thought crossed my mind that this was something that she would probably benefit from," Dr. Knight said.

Meg was just 16 at the time and those pacemaker's aren't approved by the FDA for anyone younger than 18.

WVU wasn't going to give up, though. 

Part II- The "Pacer"

Meg Throckmorton was practicing for a dance recital this spring when she fell and damaged her C-2 vertebra. She couldn't move or breathe on her own.

Doctors at West Virginia University Hospitals knew a diaphragmatic pacemaker, or pacer, could help Meg, but she wasn't old enough to receive one by FDA guidelines.

WVU's doctors didn't give up, though, and neither did Meg or her parents.

"We were just looking at down the line, what the possibilities were going to be with her life," said Meg's dad John Throckmorton, "and we thought that the pacer was going to be a critical thing in allowing her to do a lot more than what she would be otherwise."

Ultimately, it could give Meg freedom from a ventilator.

"Her diaphragm muscle, there was nothing wrong with the muscle itself, but it wasn't getting any stimulation," Dr. Jennifer Knight, the WVU Hospitals surgeon who implanted the pacer. "So what the pacer does is the pacer reconnects, or recreates that stimulation to the diaphragm that allows a person to breathe."

Since the procedure is only cleared for patients older than 18, Dr. Knight and others had to sign off on it as safe for Meg, and receive approval through the hospital's board.

"We were able to do that in a pretty timely manner so that she had the pacer placed within a week of her injury," Dr. Knight said, "which I've been told is the fastest that anyone's every been able to place a pacer in a patient after their injury."

While the pacer could be crucial in helping Meg breathe on her own one day, it was not a comfortable experience.

"It felt like my stomach was getting stung by a bee 12 times a minute," Meg said. "I never really got used to it, I could always feel it."

It wasn't an immediate transition, either. Meg would need the ventilator until she gained enough strength to breathe with just the pacer's help.

Meg faced that challenge on top of the already daunting task of learning to walk again.

"I think when someone's on a ventilator or has breathing difficulty, it's a huge deal, not just for them, but for the caregiver," said Dolly Throckmorton, Meg's mom. "You're constantly consumed with this ventilator and the numbers on it and what this means and watching them breathe and it just takes over your whole life so to speak."

Meg's journey to get off of the ventilator and on her own two feet again was far from over.

Part III- The Recovery

Teenager Meg Throckmorton was in recovery after damaging her spinal column.

She was the first teen to receive this particular diaphragmatic pacemaker, thanks to West Virginia University Hospitals, and that would play a part in helping Meg get back on her feet again.

"In the beginning I did have the ventilator," Meg said, "so they'd have to follow me with my chair and my vent attached to that."

 Meg and her family were transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a facility designed specifically for injuries like Meg's.

Walking again was only one part of the battle. Meg needed to breathe on her own again, too.

"Honestly, of everything we went through weaning from that ventilator was probably the hardest thing we ever did," Meg's mom Dolly Throckmorton said.

Meg quickly made more progress than anyone expected both in her limbs and her lungs.

"Her attitude from day one was just amazing and she just kept working hard," said John Throckmorton, Meg's dad. "We had good days and bad days but for the most part she just put her head down and worked hard every day and tried to keep as best spirits as she could."

Respiratory therapists would help Meg slowly learn to breathe on her own.  First, Meg would breathe with just the help from the pacemaker, then she would go for periods of time with no help at all.

Meg remembered the most difficult part of that process.

"(I) tried to stay off at night which was a big deal because I was so paranoid I couldn't sleep," Meg said. "My parents would stay up all night with me and I would not go to sleep."

Doctors were unsure at first whether Meg would ever be able to use her legs again, but Meg knew that it would happen at some point in her life.

As her therapy progressed, Meg realized when she was surrounded by her family that she wouldn't need to spend years confined to a wheelchair.  

"That's probably when it happened because my whole family was there and my grandparents and they all started crying," Meg said.

Meg and her parents are back home in Waynesburg now, and Meg is back in high school for her junior year.

There's still a lot of work ahead, but Meg and her family are up for the challenge.

"She's already done more than we've ever expected her to be able to do," said Dr. Knight, "so how much more she's able to do, I think a lot of that is up to Meg at this point in time."