Doctor says ‘golden age’ of spinal cord injury treatments a decade away

Published: June 4, 2007  |  Source: bodyandhealth.canada.com
57

TORONTO (CP) – Arms trembling, Nicholas Schoenhoff pushed himself up from his wheelchair, grabbed a pair of silver canes and took a few wobbly steps – something the 15-year-old high school student never thought he’d manage after shattering his neck in a snowboarding accident two years ago.

“Initially, they said I’d be basically a quadriplegic for life,” he said. “Over time that changed, and now they’re saying I’ll eventually be walking around full-time.”

Schoenhoff spoke Tuesday at Bloorview Kids Rehab, a teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto, to help kick off the Rick Hansen Wheels in Motion fundraising event for spinal cord injury research.

He said recent advances in the treatment of spinal cord injuries give him hope he’ll one day walk again.

The teen, clad in a white German national soccer team jersey with Miroslav Klose’s number 11 emblazoned on the back, described how he was treated after his accident.

Schoenhoff said he was immediately immobilized and taken to a nearby hospital for a steroid treatment to reduce the swelling in his neck. He was then airlifted to another hospital, where a scan revealed a bone pressing on a vertebra. Surgeons removed the bone and reconstructed his neck.

Schoenhoff said even 10 years ago, that kind of surgery wasn’t an option for spinal cord injuries.

“With that injury, you usually don’t see people walk,” he said. “Over the years, they’ve really improved that. With the research, it’s made it possible for people with that high injury to be able to walk.”

A University of Toronto surgery professor who also spoke at the event predicted the next 10 to 15 years will be a “golden era” for spinal cord injury treatments.

“There’s going to be a pipeline of discoveries that are going to be translated from the laboratory into the clinical situation,” Michael Fehlings said.

The Rick Hansen Foundation says more than 41,000 Canadians are affected by spinal cord injuries, with 1,100 new injuries occurring each year.

The bulk of those injuries – 84 per cent – happen to people under the age of 34.

However, Fehlings said baby boomers increasingly risk spinal cord injuries as they grow older, particularly when they play sports.

But advances are being made, Fehlings said, highlighting MRIs and Schoenhoff’s type of surgery as examples of new treatments for spinal cord injuries.

Schoenhoff said his recovery has sped up since he started walking with the canes in January. Now, he only uses the wheelchair for long distances. He urged others with spinal cord injuries to stay positive.

“They told me that I never had a chance, and look,” he said. “There is a chance. Keep on fighting and don’t give up.”

Provided by: Canadian Press
Written by: STEVE RENNIE