Missoula conference touts evolving perceptions, treatments for spinal cord injuries

Published: September 30, 2013  |  Source: missoulian.com
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A conference last week that brought together doctors, patients and support groups and services is the first step in a movement toward more comprehensive care for people with spinal cord injuries, organizers say.

The Sept. 21 Spinal Cord Injury: Surgery and Rehabilitation event held at Providence St. Patrick Hospital and sponsored by Montana Neuroscience Institute Foundation drew upward of 60 people.

The inaugural event is a sign that the mentality behind treating spinal cord injuries is changing, said Michelle Cole.

Previously, the prevailing belief was that patients only improve during the first year of their recovery. However, progressive therapies that treat and maintain patient cores and beyond the injury are showing that patients can improve past then, said Cole, a nurse whose son Kolter Beneitone was paralyzed in a vehicle accident.

When the family was told what to expect, “I thought, OK, there’s got to be more,” Cole said. So they sought care at Project Walk Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center in California.

A similar program, called New Directions, is in Missoula, and Cole hopes to spread the word about the possibilities it offers patients and create an affordable regional care center.

A top-down approach to therapy doesn’t give false hope, said Susan Ostertag, director of the University of Montana’s physical therapy clinic.

“But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving hope,” she said, adding that hope is essential to providing motivation for recovery.

Healthy people spend their lives strengthening their cores and trunks, Ostertag said, so why not do the same for people with spinal cord injuries?

“Because we didn’t think they could do that,” she said, adding that now we know differently.

Perhaps a patient’s prognosis is that he or she will never walk again, but the activity-based therapy, which starts at the top and gradually works downward to strengthen the body overall, will help them maintain bone density and avoid skin sores and other secondary conditions, and be more functional, she said.

Ultimately, Ostertag and Cole hope to create momentum for a new, larger center and to foster a system that provides a continuum of care for spinal cord injury patients that includes community and medical support – from the time of the injury throughout the recovery process.

What an expanded program might look like is still in the formulation stages, Ostertag said. “But we know that we have to do something better than we’re doing now.“

The thought of a more comprehensive care and support network brought Cole to tears.

“That’s how it makes me feel. I’m so overwhelmingly excited,” Cole said, wiping her eyes.

To learn more, find Dare to Defi–Montana Spinal Cord Injury Network on Facebook.

By Alice Miller