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Transforming Care and Recovery for People with Spinal Cord Injury

This episode of Kessler Foundation's podcast, covers a panel discussion about our spinal stimulation research. Joining us is panel moderator Steve Adubato, PhD and distinguished panelist, Gail Forrest, PhD, director of Kessler Foundation Center for Spinal Stimulation, Steven Kirshblum, MD, Kessler Foundation's chief medical officer and co-director of the Center for Spinal Stimulation, Guang Yue, PhD, director of Kessler Foundation's Center for Mobility and Rehabilitation Engineering Research, and research participants Natalie Barrett from New Jersey, Jimmy Brown from New York, and Kelly Thomas from Florida.



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Below is an excerpt from the conversation.

Steve Adubato: Talk about your experience as a research participant and how it has helped you regain some movement, and some mobility that you did not have before.

Kelly Thomas: Well, my neurosurgeon told me I would never walk again, and I thought he was right for a long time. Because I regained the ability to stand, but I wasn't able to walk. And I applied to a research database, and I was accepted as a participant. And I tossed the idea around very thoroughly, talked it through with my family, my doctors, prayed about it a lot. And I decided to go through with it, and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

SA: Natalie, describe for folks your injury.

Natalie Barrett: Four years ago, March, I was hit by a car. I was driving. I was hit from behind, and the airbag broke my neck. So my level of injury is C6-C7, and they fused it back together. And when I finally recovered, I was not able to move anything beyond my waist. I wasn't told that I wouldn't be able to. I was told that I was incomplete, which the word itself-- incomplete. So I worked hard, and I prayed a lot and finally, with the therapy, the outpatient therapy, I was met with Dr. Gail.

One of the therapists, Buffy, said that I would be a great candidate for the study that was going on with the exoskeleton. And Dr. Gail took me under her wing, and I have been up and about with the exoskeleton. I'm using a walker now. I'm moving around a lot more, and again, it's more than just the walking. When you look at people in a wheelchair, the first thing you say are, "Oh, she can't walk." It's way more than that. I can walk, slowly but surely, but again, the exoskeleton helps with a lot of other issues, bowel, bladder, which was very, very important, the main issue for me. So I'm happy, and I'm going to just keep going.

SA: Why is this research and work that you do so personal?

Gail Forrest: I mean, I've been doing-- the type of research we do, I have been doing it a long time now. And most of the interventions I do are long-term interventions. I think Natalie's been with us with the stimulation for over 12 months, but most of them are 6 to 8 months long. Because you get to know these individuals. To be a researcher is to be very objective and to really look at the results. But you get to also know individuals, how an injury can affect their lives. And so it is the therapists, the engineers. And I should note that we're part of the team, so its therapists, engineers, research technicians. All of them get involved with these individuals, and so it becomes personal. They become very friendly, and they are part of what we-- day to day, they come three, four, five times a week. So it becomes very personal.

SA: Jimmy, Share with folks just a little bit about the injury that you sustained.

Jimmy Brown: Next month will be 15 years. I was down at Jersey Shore, and it was a hot summer day, and my parents had just bought a shore house down in Long Beach Island, and it was right on the water. And on the bay side, the water-- well, the friendly water of New Jersey isn't so clean, and it was a little dark at the bottom, so I didn't know how deep the water was, but it was a hot day. And I threw my bathing suit on and dove off the dock, and the water was two, three feet tops, and I broke my neck. I was laying there face down. I think the people that were watching me thought I was fooling around, but my dad jumped in and flipped me over. Said, "I can't feel anything. Can't move from the neck down." So I guess in that three minutes, four minutes, he saved my life just flipping me over so I could breathe. Swallowed some water, collapsed lung. Was in the hospital for 10 days. Spent just over two months at Kessler, and here I am. 15 years. Been married for eight. Two kids. I've moved on, but these studies are very inspirational. They lead you with a lot of hope, but in 15 years, it's come a very long way.