The People, Places & Things of 2012

Reprinted from PN December 2012

Gold medals, stem cell research, and exoskeletons were all part of what made 2012 unique.

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A year never really seems to move that fast until you’re at the end of it, and here we are in the final weeks of 2012 and looking back at the last 12 months.

A presidential election, the Olympics and Paralympics, Superstorm Sandy, and a slow economy were just a few things that caught everyone’s attention this year. Things were just as busy and eye-catching when it comes to news, events, and issues of importance to people with disabilities.

It’s impossible to cover everything, but these are a few of the top names, events, discoveries, and headlines of 2012.

Taking Home Gold

The eyes of the world were on London late this summer as more than 4,200 athletes from more than 160 countries took part in the Paralympic Games.

Team USA hauled in 98 medals at the Games, including 31 gold. Several Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) members did their fair share to account for some of that total.

Former Marine Corps Special Forces member Oz Sanchez led the way for the veterans with a gold and bronze medal in cycling.

In athletics (track and field), National Veterans Wheelchair Games gold medalists Angela Madsen and Scot Severn each won a bronze medal in the shot put.

For more information, visit

Revolutionary Clinical Trial

Stem cells continue to be a focal point in the effort to treat people with spinal-cord injuries, and the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis is taking a big step in this ongoing effort.

At the London Marathon, robotic legs enabled Claire Lomas to cross the finish line, 16 days after she started the race. (Spinal Research photo)

This past summer, the project received permission from the Food and Drug Administration to begin a Phase I clinical trial to evaluate the safety of transplanting human Schwann cells. These are essential to sending appropriate electrical signals through the nervous system.

The clinical trial will enroll eight participants with acute thoracic SCI within five days of injury. It could be at least two to three years from the time the first subject is enrolled until the final subject is one year post-transplantation.

For more information, visit themiam

Spirit of the Games

Longtime National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) participant Phil Rosenberg gets a positive outlook from the Games
and works to give other paralyzed vets that same feeling.

The U.S. Army veteran earned the Spirit of the Games award in Richmond, Va., this past June for his exemplary competitive desire, sportsmanship, and character.

“I try to help the younger guys,” Rosenberg says. “You have to get over that fear of what it’s going to be like in public. When I was first injured, they (Veterans Affairs therapists and counselors) really encouraged us to do things. I think it’s good to get back in the community as quickly as possible.”

Rosenberg won gold medals in trapshooting, table tennis, bowling and discus this year.

For more information on the Games, visit

Metal Works

It looks like something from a science fiction movie, but a robotic exoskeleton is showing promise in helping some people with SCI to walk.

The Kessler Foundation says preliminary research from its clinical study of the Ekso (Ekso Bionics) are good.

Data from 13 patients shows walking and standing with Ekso is feasible for people with a range of spinal-cord disorders. Individuals with higher levels of SCI may also benefit but require more time to learn Ekso-assisted walking.

For more information, visit kesslerfoun

Wheelchair Worries

A study of the increase of failing wheelchairs points a finger at government oversight as a possible reason behind the issue.

Investigators at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories in Pittsburgh found more than half of 723 wheelchair users reported having a chair breakdown in a six-month period. They also discovered users who had wheelchairs funded by Medicare and Medicaid had more problems than individuals funded by other sources.

Researchers speculate that insurance reimbursement changes and a lack of quality standards are the problem. Medicare and Medicaid reportedly don’t take wheelchair quality into account, and competitive bidding policies can mean lower-quality equipment.

The study was published in June’s American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

For more information, visit

A Prick for Pain

A study to see if acupuncture can help SCI patients better handle neuropathic pain is one of several projects to win a PVA Research Grant this year.

Led by Lixing Lao, PhD, at the University of Maryland, the project is a collaboration between acupuncture researchers/practitioners and spinal-cord medicine specialists. This project will investigate the effects of auricular acupuncture on chronic SCI-related neuropathic pain after an eight-week period of weekly acupuncture sessions. The belief is that acupuncture will safely reduce pain intensity.

The PVA Research Foundation Board of Directors awarded more than $1 million in grants to ten different projects this year.

For more information, visit

New MS Drug

People living with multiple sclerosis (MS) got a new treatment option this year when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Aubagio (teriflunomide).

Made by Sanofi Aventis, Aubagio is a once-a-day tablet for the treatment of adults with relapsing forms of MS.

“In a clinical trial, the relapse rate for patients using Aubagio was about 30% lower than the rate for those taking a placebo,” says Russell Katz, MD, director of the Division of Neurology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

The most common side effects of Aubagio during clinical trials included diarrhea, abnormal liver tests, nausea, and hair loss.

For more information, visit or

Thanks, Frank

This year’s PVA National Convention in New Orleans proved to be the end of an era for one long-time board member.

For the first time in almost 30 years, Frank Rigo will not hold the office of PVA secretary. Historically, the office doesn’t generate much competition, but this year was an exception with four candidates in the running.

Rigo was seeking election to an astounding 30th term, but after three rounds of balloting Larry Dodson emerged the victor by just one vote. Rigo’s extended service to PVA is recalled fondly by many members.

“Rigo is a ‘living plethora’ of history about PVA,” wrote president Bill Lawson in the November PN’s PVA From The Top article. “I never tire of listening to his stories about the ‘good ole days’ in PVA.”

The World War II and Korean War veteran’s work with PVA is not over. Rigo is on a committee charged with creating a book about the history of the organization.

Last to be First

Claire Lomas of England was able to become a first by finishing last this year at the London Marathon.

Paralyzed from the waist down after a horseback-riding accident in 2006, Lomas tackled the 26.2-mile course and after 16
days walked across the finish line using robotic legs. The 32-year-old is believed to be the first person to complete a marathon using such a device.

The roughly 40-pound motorized exoskeleton is called ReWalk and is developed by Argo Medical Technologies in Israel.

Lomas took the challenge on as part of a fund-raising effort for spinal research and raised more than $265,000.

For more information, visit or

Wheelchair Fitness Mecca

Wheelchair users in Phoenix seeking a place for fitness, health, and recreation made just for them have found
their home.

The Virginia G. Piper Sports and Fitness Center for Persons with Disabilities (SpoFit) officially opened this year. The 45,000-square-foot, $13-million facility is specifically created for wheelchair users. Among the key features are a 7,500-square-foot fitness room, including accessible equipment and a lap pool with lifts that is deep enough to accommodate scuba diving. There are also indoor courts, a climbing wall and suspended indoor jogging track.

It’s hoped SpoFit will be a model for other such centers to be developed around the nation.

For more information, visit 


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