Leading The Way in Stroke Care: Breakthrough Technology Improves Patients’ Upper Mobility
Neurosurgeon Dr. Ronald Benitez (r.) was the first neurosurgeon to implant the Vivistim® Paired VNS™ System in a recovering stroke patient in New Jersey. Sean Sliger, Territory Manager at MicroTransponder, creator of this breakthrough technology, was by his side during the procedure.
LEADING THE WAY IN STROKE CARE: Breakthrough Technology Improves Patients’ Upper Mobility
Ronald Benitez, MD, a neurosurgeon with Altair Health and Medical Director of Endovascular Neurosurgery at Atlantic Health System’s Overlook Medical Center, recently became the first physician in New Jersey to implant the FDA-approved Vivistim® Paired VNS™ System. Vivistim is a first-of-its-kind breakthrough technology that uses vagus nerve stimulation to improve a stroke survivor’s hand and arm function.
NJ Monthly reached out to Dr. Benitez to learn more.
Q: Dr. Benitez, what is vagus nerve stimulation or VNS?
Vagus nerve stimulation has been extensively researched as a treatment option for several neurological conditions. Paired VNS Therapy is a first-of-its-kind, FDA-approved breakthrough technology that simultaneously pairs stroke therapy exercises with brain stimulation via the vagus nerve to help strengthen neural connections and enhance the relevance of rehabilitation therapy.
Q: Who benefits from Paired VNS?
Ischemic stroke survivors experiencing ongoing hand and arm impairment 6 months or more post-stroke are candidates for Paired VNS. The Vivistim device offers the potential to recover additional function since many stroke patients stop seeing the return of function after the first year or so of recovery.
Q: How does Paired VNS work?
A small medical device is implanted under the skin in the patient’s upper left chest area during an outpatient procedure. During in-clinic rehab therapy, a therapist uses a wireless transmitter to communicate with proprietary software that signals the Vivistim device. The device delivers a gentle pulse to the vagus nerve while the patient performs a specific task such as putting on a hat, brushing hair or cutting food.
This simultaneous pairing of the rehab exercise with vagus nerve stimulation releases neuromodulators that help create or strengthen neural connections, improving upper limb function and increasing the relevance of physical or occupational therapy. At home, the stroke survivor can swipe a magnet activator over the device to activate the system during daily activities and exercise. The at-home Vivistim therapy in conjunction with the in-clinic rehabilitation helps stroke survivors get back to doing what matters most to them while enhancing their quality of life.
Q: What outcomes does Paired VNS produce?
By creating and strengthening neural connections, Paired VNS helps generate 2-3 times more hand and arm function for ischemic stroke survivors than traditional rehabilitation therapy alone. Patients experience improved functional mobility during daily tasks like dressing, meal prep and doing laundry.
Q: Where did New Jersey’s first Vivistim implantation take place?
I did the first Vivistim implantation in our state at Atlantic Health System’s Overlook Medical Center.
Q: Who was the first patient?
The first patient was a Succasunna, NJ woman in her 60s who experienced a stroke in 2020. She had the device implanted in February 2023 and began her Paired VNS for stroke rehabilitation using the device in March 2023 at Newton Medical Center. Using the Vivistim device during rehab sessions and at home, the stroke survivor began seeing her hand function start to return within two Paired VNS therapy sessions and even more function in successive weeks.
Q: Why do you believe in Paired VNS for Stroke Therapy?
Stimulating the vagus nerve directly in conjunction with traditional stroke rehabilitation can exponentially enhance a patient’s chances of recovering function. It’s an incredible approach that opens new doors for drastically improving the quality of stroke patients’ lives.
Q: Why are you personally and Atlantic Health System’s comprehensive stroke center so involved in bringing state-of-the-art treatment therapies like Paired VNS to patients in our state?
We have a long-standing history of being a leader in stroke care – including the Atlantic Neuroscience Institute based at Overlook being the first state-designated Comprehensive Stroke Center. Our passion for ensuring our patients have access to the most innovative therapeutic options was a key driver for giving these patients a renewed sense of hope with the Vivistim System. That’s why rehabilitation therapists at Atlantic Health System’s Newton Medical Center and Atlantic Rehabilitation in New Providence have been specially trained to use the Vivistim® Paired VNS™ System in therapy.