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.”