MANHASSET, Long Island (WABC) -- Keith Thomas of Massapequa, a former Manhattan wealth manager - and his sister, Michelle Bennett, who is now his caregiver, have watched their lives quickly change.
At 41 years old, Thomas accidentally dove into a shallow pool in Montauk.
"Hit my head at the bottom of the pool, broke my neck," Thomas said.
Thomas became paralyzed from the chest down. The accident happened in July 2020, and Thomas says he stopped talking to his friends for a year and a half.
"I was just embarrassed this happened to me," he said.
Thomas pushed through, joining a study using artificial intelligence to restore physical movement and touch through Northwell Health's Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research.
"The challenge was to get these tiny, tiny little fragile electrodes, hundreds of them, that are mounted on these five chips, precisely targeted to areas of the brain that are responsible for feeling his fingertips and moving his hand," said Laboratory of Human Brain Mapping Director Dr. Ashesh Mehta.
Doctors created a 3D model of Thomas' brain to practice on - and it worked. The 15-hour double neural bypass surgery in March was a success.
"Opening and closing his hand is what he was able to do," said Bennett.
Thomas said it was 'unbelievable.'
"I couldn't believe it was happening," he adds.
Doctors recorded his surgery.
"This is the first case in the world right now in terms of reconnecting the brain and the body to the spinal cord in trying to restore both movement and the sense of touch," said Professor at the Institute of Bioelectronic Medicine at Feinstein Institutes Chad Bouton.
Thomas can raise his hands higher but wants to do more like wiping his own tears.
"Or just have a private moment for myself that I never had, but I'm in such a better place than I am now when I first started this study," he says.
Thomas is looking forward to making more progress. As for the medical team, they hope to keep going, possibly using AI to give people the chance to walk again.
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