It started like any other day. Paul Garrett could never have imagined that by the end of the day, he would be paralyzed from the waist down.
On May 25, 2019, Paul was making coffee before another day’s work as an appliance installer when he noticed a slight tingling in the toes of his right foot. Being fairly fit and in his early sixties, he didn’t think much of it – until the numbness got worse, moving up to the base of his spine and down the other leg. Within 30 minutes of the initial sensation, he lost all feeling and function in his legs.
Paul was rushed to the nearest emergency department. For some reason, he knew his life had changed forever. He assumed he was suffering from a stroke.
“Before the ambulance arrived, it was terrifying and emotional. I had this feeling I would never walk again.”
"... Nothing was working when I got to Parkwood Institute."
It wasn’t a stroke but Paul was right about the life-altering ramifications. After days of testing, he was diagnosed with acute onset transverse myelitis, a rare neuroimmune disorder where inflammation damages the insulating material (myelin) covering the nerves along the spine. Without this protective coating, signals from the brain to the spine and back cannot occur.
Paul came to St. Joseph’s Health Care London’s Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Rehabilitation Program at Parkwood Institute, where his care team partnered with him and wife Brenda to develop a recovery plan.
“They started from scratch with me, nothing was working when I got to Parkwood Institute,” says Paul.
When occupational therapist Charlie Giurleo asked Paul and Brenda what their initial goals for rehabilitation were, they were quick to answer. Paul wanted to get to his son’s wedding, just a month away. The team, and
Paul, got to work, focusing treatments and exercises on learning how to get out of bed, transfer from the wheelchair to the car, and stand independently.
"... We were able to move on and adapt, thanks to the team..."
“I made it to the wedding, and I was even able to stand for a few pictures with my family. It was amazing.”
Then it was time to set longer term goals for his recovery and Paul knew exactly what he wanted, “I wanted to walk out of the building on my own.”
While the physical recovery was a significant hurdle for the Garretts, so was the emotional recovery.
“The SCI Rehabilitation Program team gave us wonderful support and information on how to live with a spinal cord injury,” says Brenda. “There was a lot of grief in the beginning for a life that was profoundly changed and would never be the same again, but we were able to move on and adapt thanks to the team at Parkwood Institute who were so positive and empowering.”
Emboldened by his care team, Paul was able to remain upbeat. Each time he met a new health care provider, he would tell them, ‘You’re on Team Paul now,’ as he held up his hand for a fist bump.”
With the support of Team Paul, including his wife, a determined Paul worked on his walking one day at a time. “The team said to me, to go quicker is to go slower… to remain focused every day and get a little bit stronger.”
Paul was fortunate to have access to specialized rehabilitation equipment and expertise of members of St. Joseph’s Gray Centre for Mobility and Activity as part of his treatment.
“The equipment and the expertise in The Gray Centre were instrumental in Paul’s recovery.”
The Gray Centre is focused on expanding and advancing mobility and rehabilitation treatment and prevention solutions through research and collaborations between scientists and health care providers using the latest technology and innovations.
“Current patients of St. Joseph’s rehabilitation programs are already benefiting from The Gray Centre,” says physiotherapist Stephanie Cornell. Stephanie was a big part of Team Paul, supporting his rehabilitation plan and treatment.
“The equipment and the expertise in The Gray Centre were instrumental in Paul’s recovery,” says Stephanie. “Utilizing technology such as the body weight support treadmill, we were able to help Paul relearn a walking pattern and get back to being more active in his community.”
All of Paul’s hard work paid off. After his last rehabilitations session he met his goal and walked out of the building on his own. Members of Team Paul lined his pathway out to cheer him on and mark the momentous occasion.
The Gray Centre for Mobility and Activity recently completed the 2022 Catalyst Grant Competition. Catalyst grants are intended to provide seed funding to develop innovative research and clinical ideas and better position these projects to secure subsequent larger grants from external agencies. The Catalyst Grant Evaluation Committee reviewed several very strong proposals and selected four studies for funding:
Evaluation of a novel technique for lumbar medial branch denervation to treat chronic mechanical low spinal pain originating from the facet joint:
Lead Investigator: Dr. Eldon Loh
A common treatment for chronic mechanical low back pain is to guide a small radiofrequency electrode towards specific joints in the spine and destroy the surrounding sensory nerves that are signaling pain to the brain. When successful there is substantial pain relief for the patient but the results are inconsistent, likely due to inaccurate site targeting of the electrode. In this work, Dr. Eldon Loh and his colleagues will first test in cadavers the safety and efficacy of a potentially more accurate method of guiding the electrode to these spinal joints. If successful, this method will then be used clinically in a small cohort of consenting patients to determine whether a larger randomized control trial testing this novel method should be conducted.
Pilot of an online, integrated behaviour change and physical activity program for those with neurological conditions:
Lead Co-Investigators: Swati Mehta PhD, Dalton Wolfe PhD
There is significant disparity in access to physical activity programs for people with mobility impairments, which greatly impacts mobility, function and long-term wellbeing. Swati Mehta, PhD, Dalton Wolfe, PhD, and their colleagues will test an online, group-based intervention consisting of exercise and behaviour activation strategies targeting these and other outcomes. Importantly, this programming will be applied to patient groups across several clinical programs at Parkwood Institute.
Study into the effect of transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation on upper limb function in individuals with paralysis caused by spinal cord injury
Lead Co-Investigators: Drs. Keith Sequeira, Eldon Loh, and David Allison, PhD
The vagus nerve normally plays an important role in many of the body’s functions. Unfortunately, following spinal cord injury the activity of the vagus nerve is commonly reduced. Artificially stimulating the vagus nerve through a process known as vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) can help to increase the activity of this nerve and new evidence from animal models has shown that this treatment can improve physical recovery after spinal cord injury. For this study, Drs. Keith Sequeira, Eldon Loh, and David Allison, PhD, will test whether VNS in addition to traditional rehabilitation services lead to better mobility outcomes for patients with spinal cord injury compared to traditional rehabilitation services alone.
Evaluation of the perspectives of individuals with chronic neurological conditions regarding existing activity programs at Parkwood Institute:
Lead Investigator: Janelle Unger, PhD
One of the main goals of the Gray Centre is to expand the mobility and activity programming that Parkwood Institute offers to community members living with chronic conditions. A critical component to this expansion is evaluating existing programs to identify their strengths and challenges. In this work, Janelle Unger, PhD, and her colleagues will conduct a large series of interviews to explore the lived experiences of individuals participating in Parkwood Institute’s existing activity programs. The research team will then develop recommendations for how to best modify these current programs and optimally develop future program and service provisions.
The Gray Centre is excited to support these innovative projects. Congratulations to all the 2022 catalyst grant recipients.