Early Efforts at Overcoming Paralysis

Most people may not know that Wright State (WSU) become an independent university only in the late 1960s (it was originally a branch campus of Ohio State and Miami University serving personnel at NCR and Wright Patterson AFB).   Well before there was even the notion of having handicapped parking spaces and wheelchair ramps, WSU’s campus was geared to supporting research in reducing disabilities and catering to students in wheelchairs.  This was a relatively unique position that WSU took among universities.

In the early 1980s, WSU hired Dr. Jerrold Petrofsky to its staff, based on his promise of having the ability to make people walk again.  He was all over the news, including an interview on the CBS TV show, 60 Minutes.  They even made a movie about him and the paralyzed girl that he supposedly helped to take her first steps.   He was treated as being more brilliant than Salk and Sabin.

Alas, he was over-promising on what he could deliver and started to come across as a shady researcher. He was pushed out of WSU, and disappeared from the news.

One reason I personally learned so much about him is that one of my early jobs in the mid-1980s was to help convert one of his abandoned research buildings near the WSU campus into an aerospace repair center for turbine engine components.

This is a link to an article about Petrofsky in 1989 that provides a little more background…  It’s interesting that the brain technology has finally advanced enough in 30 years that some of his visions for restoring mobility may actually be achievable.  This begs the question:  was he a snake oil salesman or just well ahead of his time?


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