Thursday, May 31, 2012

If You Were a Rat, You'd be Walking

Scientists in Switzerland have restored full movement to rats paralyzed by spinal cord injuries in a study that spurs hope that the techniques may hold promise for someday treating people with similar injuries. 

Gregoire Courtine and his team at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne saw rats with severe paralysis walking and running again after a couple of weeks following a combination of electrical and chemical stimulation of the spinal cord together with robotic support.

"Our rats are not only voluntarily initiating a walking gait, but they are soon sprinting, climbing up stairs and avoiding obstacles," said Courtine, whose results from the five-year study will be published in the journal Science on Friday.

Courtine is quick to point out that it remains unclear if a similar technique could help people with spinal cord damage but he adds the technique does hint at new ways of treating paralysis.
Other scientists agree.

"This is ground-breaking research and offers great hope for the future of restoring function to spinal injured patients," said Elizabeth Bradbury, a Medical Research Council senior fellow at King's College London.
But Bradbury notes that very few human spinal cord injuries are the result of a direct cut through the cord, which is what the rats had. Human injuries are most often the result of bruising or compression and it is unclear if the technique could be translated across to this type of injury.

Handout / Reuters
A combination of electrial and chemical stimulation were used to stimulate the spinal cords of rats with spinal cord injuries and severe paralysis for a study that will be published in the journal Science.

It is also unclear if this kind of electro-chemical "kick-start" could help a spinal cord that has been damaged for a long time, with complications like scar tissue, holes and where a large number of nerve cells and fibres have died or degenerated.

Nevertheless, Courtine's work does demonstrate a way of encouraging and increasing the innate ability of the spinal cord to repair itself, a quality known as neuroplasticity.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Paralyzed Bride Can Have Sex!

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Thank You Canada

The Rick Hansen Institute (RHI) and Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) today thanked the Harper government for partnering in their vision of an accessible and inclusive society and a cure for paralysis after spinal cord injury (SCI).

Today's Federal Budget announcement will support essential advancements in research for a cure for paralysis after spinal cord injury, and make a positive difference by promoting the translation of promising research discoveries and best practices into real, practical benefits for the more than 86,000 Canadians with spinal cord-related injuries and illnesses.

"The Government of Canada has been a critical partner in my 25 year journey towards a healthier and more inclusive world, and we are extremely grateful for their continued support," said Rick Hansen. "This renewed federal investment will allow us to further advance in our collective goal of achieving a cure for paralysis after spinal cord injury and achieve better medical care and outcomes as we assist SCI patients in becoming more active members of the community. While much has been accomplished, I truly believe our best work is in front of us."

The Rick Hansen Institute and the Rick Hansen Foundation are committed to advancing clinical research studies in such priority areas as reduction of paralysis and secondary complications; the implementation of validated best practice guidelines in SCI care nationally and build capacities for hospitals to adopt these standards; and the expansion of the pan-Canadian SCI clinical research network to enhance collaboration between Canadian and international SCI experts.

"Together we are solidifying Canada's position as a global leader and a world-class SCI centre of excellence," added Hansen. "The path we are taking is reducing hospital visits, readmissions from secondary complications, and the financial burden that comes with the injury, as we work towards a world without paralysis after SCI. We are grateful for not having to take the path alone".


Sunday, March 25, 2012

MS Drug Reduces Spinal Cord Injury

A drug found to slow some of the physical problems and reduce the number of flareups of multiple sclerosis (MS) could also show promise for treating spinal cord injuries, according to a new Japanese study.

Researchers from the Jichi Medical University School of Medicine and the Universisty of Tokyo's Graduate School of Medicine found that FTY720, also known as Gilenya, helped mice with spinal cord injuries (SCIs) recover some motor function when they were given the drug immediately after the injuries.

FTY720 acts in a number of ways, the study authors wrote. The drug, provided by its manufacturer, Novartis, for this study, suppresses the immune system, which reduces inflammation that occurs after injuries. Inflammatory effects, they explained, can worsen the damage done by SCIs. The drug also helped the mice's damaged tissue regenerate, among other effects.

"The main biological activity responsible for these actions is believed to be immunological, but our data suggest that nonimmunological role(s) of FTY720 are also important in the treatment of SCI," they wrote.

The drug still needs to be evaluated in larger animals before determining whether it is effective in treating SCIs, but still has promise, the authors added.

Experts not involved with the study, however, are a bit more skeptical. Many interventions work in mice, so determining the utility of Gilenya for SCIs in humans is a long way off, if it happens at all.

"Another issue is that in this study, the drug was given immediately after the SCI, and rarely do we have the opportunity to give a drug immediately after this type of injury in humans," said W. Dalton Dietrich, professor and scientific director of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine. "One big question is if the drug delivery is delayed, will it work?


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Spinal Cord Injury Cure May Come In A Fortune Cookie

Doctor looks to China for spinal injury 'cure'

One of the world's leading researchers into spinal cord injuries says China could hold the key to a cure that he has been searching for since he met late actor Christopher Reeve in the 1990s.

US-based Doctor Wise Young first used the word "cure" in relation to his work after a conversation with Reeve, the "Superman" hero who became quadriplegic in an equestrian accident in 1995.

Reeve contacted him looking for help and the two became close friends. The actor died of heart failure in 2004 at the age of 52, having devoted his life to raising awareness about spinal cord injuries and stem-cell research.

But it was a star of a different sort, Chinese gymnast Sang Lan, who set Young on the path he believes has brought a cure closer than ever, thanks to ground-breaking clinical trials of stem-cell therapy he is conducting in China.

"Everybody assumed that I'm doing this in China because I wanted to escape George W. Bush, but that's not the case at all," Young told AFP in an interview, recalling the former US president's 2001 decision to effectively stop Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

"I started the clinical trials in 2005 here in Hong Kong ... mainly because of a promise that I made to a young woman. Her name is Sang Lan."

Sang crushed her spine during a routine warm-up exercise at the Goodwill Games in New York in 1998. She met Young as she underwent treatment and rehabilitation in the United States over the next 12 months.

"Her parents came to me and asked whether or not there would ever be a cure for her, and I said we're working very hard on it," recalled Young, who was by then one of the leading US experts on spinal cord injuries.

"When she went back to China after doing her rehabilitation in New York she cried and asked how would therapies go from the United States to China.

"In those days China was still relatively poor and backward so she didn't think that any therapy would be coming from China. So I started in 1999 to talk to all the spinal cord doctors in China."

He said the result was China Spinal Cord Injury Net, the world's largest clinical trial network for spinal cord therapies. Established in Hong Kong in 2005, it is about to expand into Europe, India and the United States.

"We're testing umbilical cord blood-cell transplants into the spinal cord combined with lithium treatments," said Young, professor in neuroscience at Rutgers University, New Jersey.

At about 20 centres in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, stem cells are injected into patients' damaged spines to help regenerate nerves, while lithium is used to promote the growth of the nerve fibres.

Each component of the combination therapy needs to be tested separately before they are brought together in the third and final phase, due to take place in the coming years if all goes well.

The results so far have been promising, although it's "still too early" to draw conclusions about recovery of movement, Young said.

"What we can comfortably say right now is that the procedure seems to be quite safe. Nobody has lost any function," he added.

"We don't expect people to be jumping out of bed and running marathons after this. Regeneration is a slow process."

The trials also involve intensive walking exercises for some of the severely injured participants at the Army General Hospital in Kunming, southwestern China.

In two sessions of three hours each, six days a week, the patients "sculpt" their nerve fibres into shape, Young said. He likened it to running a marathon every day. By comparison, Reeve did about two hours of exercise daily.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Quick Surgery Lessons Injury

Speedy surgery lessens chance of paralysis in cervical spinal cord injuries

Neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Fehlings was asleep at his High Park home one night two years ago when his pager went off. A patient with a serious spinal cord injury was en route to Toronto Western Hospital and Fehlings was beckoned to perform emergency surgery.

Time was of the essence, as a study Fehlings was working on then would later show. The study, published online Thursday in the medical journal PLoS ONE, reveals that patients who get surgery within 24 hours of a spinal cord injury have a 20 per cent improvement in their outcomes. Indeed, one in five could walk away from paralysis.

In this case, it had been 11 hours since Anastacia Espena had suffered a serious fall. The 47-year-old nanny fell while taking out the garbage at the Brampton home where she worked, striking her head on the ground. She tried getting up but couldn’t move her arms or legs. The fall had caused a compression in one of her cervical vertebrae.

Espena lay on the ground for 45 minutes, until a neighbour came to the rescue. She was taken to a local hospital and later transferred to the Krembil Neuroscience Centre at Toronto Western where Fehlings is medical director. He happened to be on call that night.

Despite her serious injury, Espena considers herself fortunate. The last thing she remembers before the anesthesia took effect was praying, “Please God, let me walk again.”

Three days after the surgery, feeling began to return to the left side of her body. With ongoing physiotherapy at Toronto Rehab, she continues to make progress. She has gone from relying solely on a motorized wheelchair to a walker. She is now learning to walk with a cane and even without any assistive devices.

The study found that patients are twice as likely to have major neurological recoveries when operated on within 24 hours of injury. Recovery is measured by the internationally recognized American Spinal Injury Assessment Scale. Scores range from letters A to E. Those with an A have no motor or sensory function below the level of injury and those with an E have normal function.

A major improvement is defined by a jump of two or more grades. Espena moved from an A to a D.

“What this means is that some patients are potentially able to walk away from an injury and others are able to regain a lot more independence,” said Fehlings.


Monday, January 2, 2012

16 Year Old Hockey Player Paralyzed

Well-wishers crowded into Jack Jablonski's hospital room and lit up his Facebook and CaringBridge pages all weekend as the high school sophomore and his family awaited a prognosis on a paralyzing injury he suffered during a hockey game on Friday.

"It's a parent's worst nightmare," his father, Mike Jablonski of Minneapolis, said on Sunday in the pediatric intensive care unit at Hennepin County Medical Center. "He dropped and didn't move. Right then and there I knew that my son, that there was something seriously wrong."

Known as "Jabby" to his friends, the 16-year-old honors student, hockey forward and varsity tennis player at Benilde-St. Margaret's scored the first goal of what would be a victory for the junior varsity Red Knights against Wayzata during the Holiday Hockey Classic tournament at the St. Louis Park Recreation Center.

Jack's team was up by one goal 5 minutes and 48 seconds into the second period when he made a dash for the puck near the end boards with two Wayzata players in hot pursuit, said Chris McGowan, the Red Knights' JV coach.

McGowan said two players rammed Jablonski from behind, smashing him into the boards, and he collapsed motionless to the ice.

Jack is in critical condition with two fractured bones in his lower neck. He's unable to move his legs and has only slight movement in his hands and fingers, McGowan said.

"He is a first-class kid. Definitely one of my favorite players in the program," he said. "It's team-first with him for everything. He's what I call a very high-end hockey player, too. And he's got an incredible hockey future ahead of him as well, assuming this all works out."

Doctors suspect that Jack suffered a bruised spinal cord and won't speculate about his recovery until the swelling reduces, his parents said. Once that happens, surgeons expect to fuse the two broken vertebrae, they added.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Paralyzed Rutgers Player on Cover of Sports Illustrated

Growing up as a kid, Eric LeGrand dreamed of seeing himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He could have never imagined it coming like this, however. LeGrand, the former Rutgers defensive tackle, collided with an Army player in October of 2010, suffering a spinal cord injury, two fractured vertebrae and paralysis. Doctors thought he’d be on a respirator the rest of his life.

Instead, LeGrand continues to amaze them. He’s been working in rehab and, on Oct. 29, was able to join his teammates on the field in a motorized wheelchair. That moment was named the best sports moment in 2011, an award that was voted on by fans, and a photo from that day graces the cover of Sports Illustrated this week.

Click to see interview with Eric LeGrand

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Stud #1 Ranked High School Wrestler Paralyzed

Stunned Alleghany County residents are rallying around their star wrestler, Luke Hampton, who suffered a severe spinal cord injury on Saturday while wrestling in a tournament at Hibriten High School in Lenoir.

Hampton, 17, one of the state's top-ranked wrestlers and a senior at Alleghany High School, has been at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center since Saturday, after breaking his C5 and C6 vertebrae, according to Derrick Calloway, Alleghany's wrestling coach.

"The way they broke, it severely damaged his spinal cord," Calloway said.

According to, a website about wrestling, Hampton was the state's No. 1-ranked wrestler in Class 1-A at 182 pounds.

Calloway said Hampton charged his opponent early in the match on Saturday morning but lost his grip and went head-first into a padded wall.

"When I saw it, I thought maybe a concussion or he just hit his head," Calloway said. "Right when I got to him, I knew immediately it wasn't good."


Friday, November 11, 2011

Wheelchair Access? There's an App for That

An online service that provides transit directions in several cities is now giving New Yorkers an option to avoid stairs.

HopStop partnered with Fit Pregnancy magazine to identify stations and routes that have elevators and other features for wheelchairs and strollers. In some cases, that could mean taking buses and avoiding subways. Or it could mean getting off the subway a stop or two early.

HopStop offers transit directions in more than 50 cities, mostly in North America. Travelers enter their starting location and destination just as they do when seeking driving directions at Google and other sites. HopStop then offers the best ways to get there by public transportation.

The stairless option is currently available only in the New York area. HopStop plans to add other markets this year.

Get the App

Monday, October 24, 2011

New York Mayor Says Wheelchair Users Not Welcome

Mayor Bloomberg says new handicapped-accessible taxis wouldn't just be inconvenient for able-bodied riders - they'd be downright hazardous to their health.

Bloomberg said the modified suspensions and larger interior spaces of disabled-friendly cabs would cause injuries and spur lawsuits against taxi owners.

"The suspension is a lot worse, and it's harder to get up and pay the cab driver and get in and out and that sort of thing," Hizzoner said during his weekly radio show on WOR.

"I think you're going to see [lawsuits] about people getting up, trying to get to the front, across the divide. You know, there's so much more space between the backseat and the divider, you're going to have people getting hurt," he said.

Bloomberg drew the ire of disability advocates Wednesday when he complained that accessible cabs would be uncomfortable and inconvenient for able-bodied riders.

He was pushing back against efforts by the U.S. attorney's office and other advocates to make cabs more accessible.

Champions for the handicapped ripped Bloomberg's remarks yesterday.

Assemblyman Micah Kellner, a Manhattan Democrat who was born with cerebral palsy, called them "preposterous."

"He seems to be floundering here, literally making things up as he goes along," Kellner said.

"Clearly, the mayor is living in his own world," Kellner added. "The Americans with Disabilities Act is very clear: Everybody gets service, and this is public transportation."

Gov. Cuomo has warned that the push by the feds to expand handicapped cab access could doom Bloomberg's livery cab bill, which would authorize 30,000 livery cars in upper Manhattan and in the other boroughs to pick up street hails.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wheelchair Video Game Available Free

A Spanish company has created the first, that I know of, video game that puts the gamer in a wheelchair.  Would this be fun?  Maybe...

You can download a copy here and try it for free.



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Spinal Cord Injury Cure Takes Another Step Forward

Scientists reported Wednesday that for the first time they used cloning techniques to coax human eggs to generate embryonic stem cells containing the genes of specific patients.

The step, published in the journal Nature, marks a long-sought, potentially pivotal advance toward the goal of creating genetically matched embryonic stem cells that could be used to treat many major diseases.

The scientists so far have only managed to produce genetically abnormal cells useful for research, but they were confident they could overcome that hurdle.

“This work for the first time demonstrates that the human egg has the ability to turn a specialized cell into a stem cell,” said Dieter Egli of the New York Stem Cell Foundation, who led the research.

The research sidestepped fears that scientists had moved closer to human cloning by producing the cells with non-viable embryos. But the experiments nevertheless have raised a new set of ethical concerns in a field already rife with ethical, moral and political quagmires.

The research was possible because for the first time scientists paid women for their eggs for human embryonic stem cell research, stirring worries about women being exploited and putting their health at risk. At the same time, the researchers made the cells by producing and then destroying mutant embryos, whose moral status immediately became a matter of sharp debate.

The researchers who conducted the work and others hailed the advance as an ethically defensible, potentially highly significant advance that could lead to producing large numbers of patient-specific cells that could cure widespread suffering.

“Cell replacement therapy would dramatically change treatment and potentially even cure debilitating disease and injuries that affect millions of people suffering from these diseases,” said Susan L. Solomon, who heads the foundation. “There really is a moral imperative to alleviate suffering.”


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tragic and Captivating Story of Danny Cox

Follow the story of Danny Cox as he chronicles his spinal cord injury starting from Day 1.

More here but watch all of the videos first:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bridge to Spinal Cord Injury Cure

Scientists restored breathing function in mice by bridging a spinal cord injury and regenerating lost nerve connections to the diaphragm.

More testing is necessary, but researchers are hopeful their technique will quickly be used in clinical trials.

Restoring breathing is the a top priority for people with upper spinal cord injuries, researchers say. Many rely on ventilators to breathe, which can be inconvenient and potentially dangerous.

“We use an old technology peripheral nerve graft and a new technology enzyme to restore breathing to nearly normal,” says Jerry Silver, professor of neurosciences at Case Western Reserve University and senior author of a study published in Nature.

Using a graft from the sciatic nerve, surgeons have been able to restore function to damaged peripheral nerves in the arms or legs for 100 years. But, they’ve had little or no success in using a graft on the spinal cord.

Nearly 20 years ago, Silver found that after a spinal injury, a structural component of cartilage, called chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans, was present and involved in the scarring that prevents axons from regenerating and reconnecting.

Silver knew that the bacteria Proteus vulgaris produced an enzyme called Chondroitinase ABC, which could break down such structures. In previous testing, he found that the enzyme clips the inhibitory sugary branches of proteoglycans, essentially opening routes for nerves to grow through.

In the new study, the researchers bridged a spinal cord injury at the second cervical level using a section of peripheral nerve and injected Chondroitinase ABC.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Hero Remembered

On Sept. 11, 2001, Mike and Evelyn Benfante of Verona got a call from their son, Michael, who was working in the World Trade Center. He said he was walking down a smokey stairwell, after “some kind of an explosion,” and was leading others down. Assisted by a colleague, he was also carrying a woman in a wheelchair, with 68 floors to go. After he hung up from his father, he pushed on as the firefighters were walking up toward the flames. While his family watched on television, both towers collapsed.

They finally and miraculously heard from their son, almost two hours later. “I saw horrible things that can’t be unseen or unremembered, but I also saw remarkable acts of helpfulness, selflessness, and generosity. That’s what I focus on to get through the memories,” explained Michael Benfante, Jr., almost 10 years after the attack.

The tragedy, escape and years of wrenching personal challenges are the subjects of Benfante’s new book, Reluctant Hero, A 9/11 Hero Speaks Out About That Unthinkable Day, What He’s Learned, How He’s Struggled and What No One Should Ever Forget, published by Skyhorse Publishing. Raised in Montclair, now living in Bloomfield with his wife, Joy, and their four-year old son, Benfante explained how impressed he was with the composure of those trying to escape through the stairwell. “People were watching out for each other, helping each other, being kind to one another, in spite of the worst attack on American soil taking place all around them,” Benfante added.

When he got to the 68th floor, Benfante left the stairwell to determine the situation when he noticed some women huddled in a group. As he called for them to get out of the building, they parted and there he saw a woman in a wheelchair. After offering to help her, she accepted but Benfante soon discovered her motorized wheelchair was too heavy to carry.

Call it karma, fate or a guardian angel, but nearby, Benfante noticed a lighter-weight evacuation wheelchair. After strapping her in, Benfante and his colleague John Cerqueira returned to the stairwell and started the descent through what was now a more crowded and hotter experience. A little more than 90 minutes later, after more doors and windows were blown in from the collapse of the south tower next door, Benfante, Cerqueira and Tina Hansen, the wheelchair-bound woman, exited the stairwell to a waiting ambulance outside.

Hansen started crying and motioned to Benfante to give her a hug. “I hugged her, gave her my business card and asked her to call me to see if I retrieved her motorized wheelchair,” Benfante continued. “That’s when I realized I was so focused on escaping that I never asked her name. When I turned around, the second tower began to collapse. We got out five minutes before the building came down.”


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Wheelchair Accessible Housing: How to Connect

When their father died in May, Holly Smith and her two sisters thought his home in the Heritage Hunt active-adult community in Gainesville would sell quickly to someone looking for a wheelchair-accessible property.

George F. Smith Jr., a career Army officer, and his wife had bought the spacious new home — with its wide hallways and doorways and its one-level living — in 2005 because it backed onto a golf course and they both loved to play golf. But after he received a diagnosis of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2009, the house was adapted for wheelchair use. The Department of Veterans Affairs paid for about $40,000 in changes, including a front ramp, alterations to the master bath and a lift on the rear deck, Holly Smith says. “The adaptations . . . made all the difference to his comfort. He might have had to go into a hospital or nursing home if the modifications had not been made.”

The house was listed at $589,000 this summer. But the family hasn’t had a single offer. They’ve struggled to connect with buyers who need the special features or who value them for possible future use. The ideal buyer, Holly Smith says, would need “a home with features like these, to save the expense and the waste of having these features removed if the new owners aren’t handicapped.” Smith and her Long & Foster agent, Amanda Scott, have concentrated on finding ways to connect with such buyers.

The experience has led Smith to wonder about the market for such homes: how others have sold and how people with disabilities find the right home. Smith, a London magazine editor, said she found just one Web site dedicated to the topic:, run by a paralyzed veteran in Dallas. It appears to be the only site devoted to selling adapted houses nationally, according to real estate associations, accessible housing specialists and organizations for the disabled.

Jackie Simon, a Gaithersburg real estate agent who has built a reputation for linking interested buyers with accessible housing, finds houses and clients mostly through direct-mail advertising aimed at those in the accessible-housing field; local chapters of associations of disabled people, such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society; and other interested groups, such as special-needs lawyers and occupational therapists. “Many times when I have the listing, I don’t have the client,” she says. “And when I have the client, I don’t have the listing.”


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bionic Legs

"1, 2, 3 stand," said John Greer's physical therapist.

It's providing hope.

"In over 20 years I never walk and for the first hour I got up and walking it's pretty incredible," said John Greer.

We met John and his wife Chris Greer last November.

They are paraplegics raising an able-bodied child in Dylan.

Both were involved in traffic accidents as young adults.

John is a Castle High School graduate. He was 19 when the truck he was riding in flipped.

Chris is from the United Kingdom and was on the back of a motorcycle when it crashed. She suffered a broken back. She was 20.

They haven't walked since, until now.

"I'm always optimistic so I would think that one day I would bust out of these braces I'd be running and somebody will say run Forest run!" said John.

Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific is one of the 10 leading rehab hospitals in the country. It has partnered with Berkeley Bionics to conduct trials on eLEGS Pro, a wearable, battery-powered exoskeleton that allows wheelchair users to stand and walk.

"Within these four walls we have really one of the best rehab center in the world," said Berkeley Bionics CEO, Eythor Bender.

John and Chris were the first to try it.

"To actually move and take steps, yeah indescribable and it's been a long time since I've done that and it's almost like being a baby again when you retrain yourself," said Chris. "You know to shift your weight and starting all over again but amazing, amazing feeling."


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Diving Injuries Increasing

Lynne and Julian Lamoureux have been through a nightmare.

The parents of three from Dwight, Ont., spent the last month in Toronto by their son’s hospital bedside.

Bradon Lamoureux, 23, was swimming with friends on July 21 in the Lake-of-Bays area when he dove through a Hula Hoop headfirst into about a metre of shallow water. Bradon’s chin hit first and he severed his spinal cord and damaged his vertebrae from C3 to T1, leaving him a quadriplegic.

“We’re taking it day-by-day,” Lynne, 53, said. “He has a little bit of shoulder movement. We’re hoping to strengthen his diaphragm muscles so he can breathe on his own.”

Bradon is one of seven young people in their 20s and 30s who have been treated at St. Michael’s Hospital for diving-related spinal cord injuries since May.

Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon and director of St. Mike’s Injury Prevention Research Centre, said during the past decade there was only one diving-related spinal cord injury per year.

“For the nine years before this year we only had nine patients and for three years we had none. Now this summer we’ve had seven catastrophic spinal cord injuries, which have rendered young, healthy people quadriplegics and changed their lives drastically,” Cusimano said.

“It’s very tragic and alarming and our staff as well, have to deal with patients trying to get their lives back together again. Young people think they are invincible and it’s not going to happen to them,” Cusimano said.

Cusimano said the increase in diving-related spinal cord injuries could be related to the warm weather we’ve been enjoying, and unwise choices.

“Unfortunately, the vast majority of diving accidents are preventable. People need to know the risks and we need to raise awareness that this problem is happening,” Cusimano said.

“There’s a large number of people who underestimate the depth of water or are unfamiliar with the depth of water. People should jump in feet first or walk in and see that there’s no rocks or sharp objects and that the water is twice the height of a diver with a minimum of nine feet,” Cusimano said, adding alcohol and swimming also do not mix.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Look Younger and Pee: Is Botox for Me?

Urinary incontinence in spinal cord injury patients could be treated using Botox, new evidence suggests.

Allergen Inc has announced that the Irish Medicines Board supports the use of this treatment to treat urinary incontinence in spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis patients.

Many patients with these conditions have neurogenic detrusor overactivity, meaning their bladders contract during the filling stage, when they should be relaxed.

Injecting Botox into the bladder muscle causes the involuntary contractions to subside, increasing bladder activity and cutting urinary leaking incidents.

Douglas Ingram, chief executive officer of European Allergan, said: "For many people with spinal cord injury or multiple sclerosis, gaining effective control over their bladder and staying dry can be a significant step towards improving daily functioning and overall quality of life."


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Trading Places

Standing room: Some buses missing half of seats
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Some Port Authority riders have been surprised to board buses this week and find all of the seats missing from the front.

The authority has modified 22 buses to serve next week's 31st National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which is holding ceremonies and events at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, and venues on the North Shore and in Oakland, Fox Chapel, Jefferson Hills and Whitehall.

Spokesman Jim Ritchie said some of the buses have been needed to fill service in recent days because half of the fleet is going through semiannual inspections and bus shuttles have been needed during work on the Light Rail Transit system and closures of the Monongahela Incline.

The modified buses are being used for regular service only as a last resort, he said.

The wheelchair games are presented by the Paralyzed Veterans of America and Department of Veterans Affairs and hosted by the Keystone Paralyzed Veterans of America and VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. Nearly 600 athletes from 46 states, Puerto Rico and Great Britain will compete from Monday through Saturday.


Disabled Can Do Any Occupation Given the Opportunity

Wheelchair Guy Robs $70K from Bank

Police are searching for a gunman who robbed a bank in a wheelchair disguise.

Detectives say the man rolled into AmTrust Bank near Chandler Boulevard and 40th Street Tuesday morning.

The suspect demanded money from a teller at gunpoint.

The teller complied and he placed the cash it in what appeared to be a laptop bag.

The suspect got away with $70,000.

He was last seen getting out of the wheelchair and running away from the bank.

According to police, witnesses said he may have driven away in a newer model red Ford Taurus.

He was wearing a long-sleeved pinstripe shirt, a tan Fedora hat with a red and blue stripe, jeans and black boots.

The suspect is described as a Hispanic man, about 5' 7" to 5' 9" tall. He has a slim build, weighing about 180 pounds and in his late 20s to early 30s.

Surveillance images have not yet been released.

Anyone with information is asked to call the police or Silent Witness.

Gunman in Wheelchair Robs Phoenix Bank of $70K:


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lady Gaga Now in a Wheelchair

Miley used a stripper pole for on sex appeal but Gaga uses a wheelchair
She has been criticised for her use of religious symbolism, slammed for some of her song lyrics and had animal rights groups up in arms over her meat dress.

But Lady Gaga might have pushed her critics over the edge last night after she came on stage in Australia in a wheelchair.

The able-bodied star has caused outrage among disability groups after she wheeled herself on in front of 1,000 people at the Sydney Town Hall.
Artistic or a wheely bad joke? Lady Gaga comes on stage in a wheelchair during her concert at the Sydney Town Hall in Australia last night

Artistic or a wheely bad joke? Lady Gaga comes on stage in a wheelchair during her concert at the Sydney Town Hall in Australia last night

Six songs into the ten song set, Gaga went off for a costume change and came on in a wheelchair wearing a PVC mermaid tail before launching into her single You And I.

But although her fans went crazy for the performance, it was met with disapproval from some disability organisations and advocacy groups.

In a statement to RadarOnline, Jesse Billauer, founder of the Life Rolls On Foundation, fumed: 'I haven’t seen Lady Gaga’s performance, but respect her artistic expression as an artist.
Outrage: But this was not the first time Gaga had used a wheelchair as a prop - and she wasn't the first star to do so either

Outrage: But this was not the first time Gaga had used a wheelchair as a prop - and she wasn't the first star to do so either

'Since this isn’t the first time she has used a wheelchair in her performances, I invite her to learn more about the 5.6 million Americans who live with paralysis.

'I extend a personal invitation to Lady Gaga to attend one of our Life Rolls On events where quadriplegics and paraplegics surf, skate, and snowboard, so she can see how much is possible beyond a wheelchair.

'Maybe that will be most shocking to her of all. They, like me, unfortunately, don’t use a wheelchair for shock value.'


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Breathing Restored in SCI Rats

Neuroscientists reported on Wednesday they had made inroads against spinal injury by restoring breathing in lab rats whose key cervical nerves had been severed.

The technique has yet to be tested on humans, but if it works could ease one of the biggest problems for people with catastrophic damage to their spinal cord, they said.

Damage above the fourth cervical vertebra in the neck invariably interrupts breathing. The patient has to be put on a ventilator, and this carries a recurrent danger of respiratory infection.

Under normal circumstances, the rate and depth of breathing are controlled automatically by nerve cells in the brain stem.

To do this, these neurons in turn control specialised motor cells located from the third to the sixth cervical vertebrae.

These cells develop farther down into the so-called phrenic nerve, which causes the muscles of the diaphram to relax and contract and the lungs to fill and empty.

A team led by Jerry Silver, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Ohio, report on an experimental way of bridging damage in the key cervical area.

They injured rats' spinal cords at the second cervical level to paralyse one-half of the diaphragm, and grafted in a tiny section of peripheral nerve from the rodents' limbs, attaching it both before and after the damage site.

The idea was to use the peripheral nerve as a bridge on which the precursor cells for the phrenic nerve could grow.

The technique had been tried before but was hampered by molecules which build up at the site of spinal cord injuries and inhibit regrowth of nerves.

To get around this, the researchers injected an enzyme called chondroitinase ABC at both ends of the graft to degrade the inhibitors and open up avenues in the scar tissue through which the nerves could -- hopefully -- grow.

After three months, tests showed that between 80 and 100 percent of breathing function had been restored, a performance that was maintained at the six-month mark.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tongue Piercing Aids Spinal Cord Injured

CHICAGO — Martin Mireles says his mother was not happy with his tongue piercing: It didn’t fit his image as a former church youth leader.

But as Mr. Mireles told her, it was for research. Paralyzed from a spinal cord injury since he was shot in the neck almost two decades ago, he was recently fitted with a magnetic stud that allows him to steer his wheelchair with his tongue.

Now he is helping researchers at the Northwestern University School of Medicine here in a clinical trial of the technology, being financed with almost $1 million in federal stimulus funds.

Mr. Mireles, 37, tested the equipment one recent afternoon by guiding a wheelchair through an obstacle course lined with trash cans. Mouth closed, he shifted the magnet to travel forward and backward, left and right.

The study was one of about 200 projects selected from more than 20,000 applicants.

“There was a ‘wow’ factor here,” said Naomi Kleitman, a program director at the National Institutes of Health and an expert on spinal cord injury research. “This is kind of a cool idea. The question is: Will it work well enough not to just be cool, but to be practical too?”

A quarter-million Americans have severe spinal cord injuries, and experts estimate that there are about 10,000 new injuries each year. Millions more have some form of paralysis from an array of conditions, including stroke, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy.

Wheelchair users do have several options now, including the “sip and puff” technology, used by the actor Christopher Reeve before his death in 2004, in which the chair is steered by breathing through a straw.

But Maysam Ghovanloo, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, wanted to create a technology that would be more aesthetically pleasing — without a straw obscuring the face — and more intuitive for users, with better control and greater flexibility.

After working on the tongue drive system for about five years, Dr. Ghovanloo is now conducting the clinical trials with Northwestern, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.

To operate the system, the user wears a headset with sensors that pick up magnetic signals from the tongue ring. Moving the tongue to the mouth’s upper left corner, for instance, moves the wheelchair forward. (The researchers hope that in the future, touching each tooth could signal a different command, from turning on the television to answering the phone to opening a door.)


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Scores of wheelchair users washed away by tsunami

Poor wheelchair access killed many

OTSUCHI, Iwate Pref. — At least one person in a wheelchair was washed away by the March 11 tsunami in the coastal town of Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, because the path to the designated evacuation shelter didn't have a ramp despite repeated requests by residents to create one.

Following the incident, the municipal government said it will overhaul its disaster prevention plan.

The shelter was a temple at the top of 40 steps. Tsui Takashimizu, 92, was washed away after she was stranded at the bottom of the steps, according to her son, Akio. He said the tsunami arrived too quickly for him to help his mother.

The tragedy highlights financial problems at cities with aging populations. Despite repeated requests in 2008 and last year for an alternative route to another designated evacuation shelter, the municipal government said it couldn't afford the project.

The area has many elderly wheelchair users. According to witnesses, several other elderly disabled people were also swept away near the temple as they waited to be carried up.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Look Mom, No Stem Cells

A new study is giving hope to millions who are paralyzed as the result of spinal cord injuries. The results of a new treatment challenge the conventional thinking that signals from the brain are needed for walking.

It might be a small step for 25-year-old Rob Summers, of Portland, Ore., but it's a giant leap for the five-and-a-half million people with spinal cord injuries.

Five years ago, "Early Show" co-anchor Chris Wragge reported, the elite athlete had dreams of becoming a major league baseball player, but was struck by a drunk driver while standing outside his home.

"The car then drove off, leaving me there with nothing and no help, no hope," Summers said.

Doctors told Summers he would never walk again. He was paralyzed from the chest down.

Summers said he was told, " 'You'll never take a step. Nothing."'

But his life changed after meeting Dr. Susan Harkema, of the University of Louisville. He became the first patient to take part in an experimental therapy for his type of paralysis.

Summers' injury disrupted the nerve pathway that normally triggers walking. Researchers implanted an electrical stimulator at the base of the spine that -- along with special exercises -- enabled his legs to move without input from the brain.

Having gone four years without any movement in his lower body, he was standing on his own in just three days -- a breakthrough that could change the future treatment of paralysis.

Summers said, "It was absolutely an incredible feeling."

Now, he can even take a few steps on a treadmill.

The results of the research have been published in the medical journal Lancet. The research was funded by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, which was established after the late actor suffered his spinal cord injury.

The foundation's Susan Howley says, "These are early days, this is a first step, we have a very long way to go, but I think the implications are enormous. And I think Christopher Reeve would be very, very pleased."

And on "The Early Show," Rob Summers said he went into the therapy with "an open mind and a strong work ethic."

"I was optimistic from day one," he said.

Summers said when he regained some movement in his lower extremities it was "incredible."

"After not having moved anything for four years, and being able to stand, it was the best feeling I've ever had," he said.

Dr. Susan Harkema, who spearheaded the effort for the experimental therapy, said on "The Early Show" she was surprised how early Summers responded to the treatment.

She said, "It was gratifying to know that decades of research by many scientists had reached a point where it might help people with paralysis."

Harkema said Summers was a good candidate because he had no motor activity in his limbs.

She explained, "A lot of scientific decisions went into (our decision). ... We trained him intensely to make sure that there wasn't any possibility of recovery before we took this next step."

Since the therapy began, Summers said his life has changed.

He said, "Now I can stand. I've gotten my confidence back to just go out in the public, and be out in the world again. As well as I work on standing for one hour a day, as well as voluntary movement. I can move my toes, ankles, knees and hips, all on command. And that's just an amazing feeling to be able to get that back."

Summers said his next goal is to stand and walk "completely normal(ly)"

He said, "I'm working towards that every day."

Harkema said there's a long road ahead.

"There's technology that needs to be developed, and more research, and testing it in other people," she said. "But it just opened up a whole new set of opportunities."

Going mainstream with these therapies, Harkema said is the goal.

"That's what we're working towards," she said. "An important aspect is that there's knowledge we have now that can make incremental changes in people's lives. And so we need to start there, and then just continue to learn more about the circuitry and how we can take advantage of it to improve function and people's quality of life."

Wragge asked, "The doctor said you'll never take another step again. What did you tell him?"

"I said, 'I'm going to walk,'" Summers said.

Wragge said, "And you're doing it."


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Spinal Cord Injury Leads to Rugby

There I was, flat on my back in intensive care at Harborview Medical Center with a 35-pound weight screwed to my skull keeping the pressure off of my two shattered vertebrae and severed spinal cord. Now what?

"Have you ever heard of Murderball?" The sweet-voiced, redheaded nurse asked me through a slight grin.

I was injured Memorial Day Weekend of 2007 while diving into Lake Chelan. A mound of sand under the water broke my fall and my C6 and C7 vertebrae, severing my spinal cord and leaving me paralyzed from the chest down and without the use of my fingers.

Fast forward through three years of rehabilitation and adjustments to my new life on wheels and there I was, strapped into a mass of metal and rubber, about to embark on an experience that would change my life forever.

Murderball, also known by the more marketable name of quad rugby, is a fast-paced, full-contact sport that is played by quadriplegics and others with various disabilities, the only requirement being significant impairment to at least three limbs.

It is a highly competitive, sometimes violent sport that is played in specialized reinforced wheelchairs that are built to take a serious beating - which they most definitely do.

Four players from each team pass a volleyball back and forth on a basketball court and score by crossing an 8-meter goal line at the opponent's end of the court. The defensive team tries to prevent the scoring at all costs; by ramming and hooking and, if they hit them right, even toppling opposing players.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. After 13 hours of surgery to stabilize my crushed spine, I spent four weeks in intensive care and eight more in inpatient trauma rehab. Three months after I rolled into the hospital on a stretcher, I rolled back out in a 600-pound power wheelchair.

The next two years were filled with rigorous physical therapy as I tried to regain enough strength in my arms to perform basic tasks needed for independence. At 22 years old, adjusting to my new life proved to be extremely difficult at times.

I never imagined that even the simplest tasks could be so challenging. The first time I put on my own pants was an exhausting cross between a wrestling match and a balancing act. Sometimes it was such a struggle that I debated the importance of wearing pants at all.

Once I decided pants were a necessity, I found out how hard it is to turn a doorknob when you can't move your fingers, or reach that ice tray in the back of the freezer. And I had never before noticed how many steps there are in the world.

More than a year after my hospital stay, I was finally able to trade in my power wheelchair for a much more manageable - and stylish - manual one. This gave me the freedom and self-confidence to resume some of my favorite activities, like sampling the beer at the local watering hole.

I got involved with quad rugby after a chance encounter with Jeremy Hannaford (who stole my handicap parking space at that very watering hole). He also suffered from a significant spinal cord injury and happened to be one of the captains of the Seattle Slam, Washington's only sanctioned quad rugby team.