Building Brighter Futures

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News September 2013

Almost $300,000 in education grants from PVA is going to work to help veterans and others with spinal-cord injuries.

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Since the founding of the Paralyzed Veterans of America almost 70 years ago, the PVA mission has been to “To change lives and build brighter futures for our seriously injured heroes.”

The PVA Education Foundation plays a key role in building that brighter future for the many veterans and others with spinal-cord injuries (SCI). The foundation supports the development of programs, seminars and other tools that share SCI knowledge and improve the lives of people with SCI.

This year, the foundation awarded ten grants worth a total of $291,266. Grants were given in four different categories: consumer, caregiver, and community education; professional development and education; assistive technology; and conferences and symposia.  

This is a brief summary of those grants. For more information on the grant process, visit


Conferences & Symposia


Experience Unique Exercise Options for Individuals with Spinal-Cord

Paula R. Geigle, PT, PhD

University of Maryland-Baltimore School of  Medicine



$14,716 (one year)

Aquatic therapy and robotic intervention are addressed marginally, if at all, in most entry-level physician, therapist and nursing professional programs.

Aquatic intervention and robotic intervention have been developing rapidly in the past 20 years, and offer people with SCI potential exercise strategies to improve quality of life, cardiovascular fitness, and functional potential. It’s important to educate not only individuals with SCI but also healthcare providers about these two vital treatment possibilities. 

Kernan Rehabilitation Hospital of University Maryland Rehabilitation Institute (UMRI) is particularly well poised to provide this cutting-edge aquatic and robotic conference.  Our robotic suite includes the following treatment and educational opportunities: Manus, Lokomat, Rewalk, and Anklebot.

Our aquatic exercise program spans the spectrum from inpatient care to a thriving wellness/fitness program. Kernan’s experience in robotics and aquatic exercise provides a springboard for collegial and community discussion regarding these topics, offering potential exercise options and brainstorming future endeavors.

The inclusion of robotics and aquatic exercise does occur within healthcare settings, but facilitation of routine person-directed health, wellness, and function needs to occur as well.  This conference bridges facility based healthcare to potential community centered aquatic and robotic exercise activities.

Always important, but especially so during healthcare resource reallocation, this conference’s goals are to:

(1) Critically assess robotic and aquatic exercise options to maintain and improve the quality of life, cardiovascular fitness, and function of individuals with SCI

Aquatic therapy

(2) Facilitate healthcare providers, individuals with SCI, and community members to consider incorporation of robotic and aquatic exercise into routine fitness programming


Second International Symposium on Autonomic Dysfunctions Following SCI

Andrei Krassioukov, MD, PhD, FRCPC

University of British Columbia

Vancouver, British Columbia

$14,968 (one year)

Spinal-cord injury (SCI) is associated not only with devastating paralysis but also with various autonomic dysfunctions such as disordered cardiovascular, bowel, bladder and sexual function.

On a daily basis, people with SCI experience these issues, which limit their activities of daily living, participation in sports and frequently result in life-threatening medical emergencies. Individuals with SCI rate the recovery of autonomic function as a top priority, higher even than finding a cure for paralysis.

The Second International Autonomic Symposium aims to improve the lives of people living with SCI by bringing together a panel of internationally renowned speakers with expertise in autonomic dysfunctions.

They’ll introduce the latest advances in clinical and basic science research to the audience through presentations and interactive workshops. Participants of this unique symposium will be able to implement this knowledge gained in their research or clinical practice to reduce the secondary complications of autonomic dysfunction, thus improving the care and quality of life among individuals with SCI.


15th International Symposium on Neural Regeneration

Roger D. Madison, PhD

International Symposium on Neural Regeneration 

Durham, N.C.

$15,000 (one year)

The International Symposium on Neural Regeneration focuses on recent progress in the field of neural regeneration, with a special emphasis on novel research topics.

The symposium’s target audience is a mixture of faculty, physicians, students, pharmacologists and laboratory staff brought together in a forum to discuss strategies for discovering methods of recovery from injury or dysfunction of the nervous system.

One goal of the symposium is to present current work in neural regeneration. Secondly, the symposium is aimed at fostering an atmosphere that is stimulating and conducive to a free interchange of ideas among investigators and students.

To the spinal-cord research community, the meeting’s significance is that it provides a format for formal and informal exchanges of ideas on research in neural regeneration. Much collaboration has started at this meeting.

For students, it’s a chance to interact directly with some of the leading scientists in the field. For individuals with spinal-cord dysfunction, meetings like this encourage new ideas, new research approaches, new collaborations and new projects, the products of which bring the possibility of functional recovery ever closer to realization.


2013 Working 2 Walk Science & Advocacy Symposium

Marilyn Smith

Unite 2 Fight Paralysis

Hood River, Ore.

$15,000 (one year)

Working 2 Walk is a science and advocacy symposium hosted by Unite 2 Fight Paralysis.

It was conceived in response to a need voiced by individuals and organizations in the SCI community: We must bridge the informational gap between research scientists who are working to restore function, and those who live with paralysis on a daily basis. The SCI community must become more visible, vocal and informed in order to advocate effectively for therapies that will restore function and improve lives.

The 2013 symposium will take place in Boston, and we expect an excellent turnout from the large and well-informed local spinal-cord injury community. Presentations will focus on the latest advances in regenerative medicine, including gene therapy, stem cells, progress in clinical trials, and nerve bridging. We’ll also learn about real-time therapies currently used to restore function after paralysis.

The Working 2 Walk Symposium provides a unique opportunity for research scientists, investors, practitioners, and consumers to share their hopes, concerns, and strategies in a relatively intimate environment. Participants leave the conference armed with knowledge, strategies, and motivation to pursue solutions to the neurological puzzle of spinal-cord injury and disease.


Patient/Consumer and Caregiver & Community Education


Optimizing Transition into Community-based Exercise after SCI

Audrey Hicks, PhD

McMaster University

Hamilton, Ontario

$95,000 (two years)

There is good evidence supporting the benefit of regular participation in twice-weekly exercise to improve fitness, independence and quality of life, as well as likely decreasing the risk of secondary health complications common to people with spinal-cord injury (SCI).

Despite this evidence, two of the biggest challenges preventing people with SCI from engaging in regular community-based exercise after discharge from rehabilitation relate to their knowledge and awareness of exercise programs in their community and their confidence in their ability to participate in exercise.

This proposal focuses on addressing these types of challenges by supporting the creation of a Community Exercise Facilitator position. The facilitator position will focus on educating newly injured inpatients on how important it is to exercise following SCI. They would also facilitate the transition from a hospital rehabilitation setting to a specialized community exercise program and ensure regular on-site support for exercise during the important first four months following discharge from rehabilitation.

Having a dedicated individual to aid in the transition from inpatient care to community exercise programming will facilitate an effective continuation of care after discharge and motivate patients to embrace exercise as part of their lifelong rehabilitation after SCI.


Employing Therapeutic Horticulture to Improve Lives of Veterans with SCI/D

C. Craig Tisher, MD 

J. Hillis Miller Health Center (University of Florida)

Gainesville, Fla.

$49,082 (one year)

This study’s goal is to improve the physical and emotional well-being of veterans with SCI by providing an opportunity for active engagement in a therapeutic horticulture program.

Therapeutic horticulture uses nature and plant-related activities to effect positive changes in cognitive, psychological, social and physical function. Veterans with SCI have many opportunities to enjoy recreational and competitive sports to achieve physical and emotional well-being, but many individuals had little or no interest in sports before sustaining their injuries or acquiring a particular disease. Others have disabilities too severe to participate.

We believe therapeutic horticulture will provide a viable alternative to the benefits derived from recreational sports programs. The opportunity to experience a nature-dominated environment of pleasant odors, colors, sounds and shapes and to participate in growing and nurturing plants will enhance their overall well-being and quality of life. Further, we believe these same benefits will benefit caregivers of participating veterans.

Those specific benefits enjoyed by caregivers will include lower levels of strain, burden and depression and higher levels of coping skills and social support leading to an improvement in their quality of life.


SCI Lecture Series & Symposia

Michele Bart 


Del Mar, Calif.

$12,500 (one year)

HeadNorth will host a series of unique educational forums designed to bring together for discussion and eduction SCI survivors and their families; caregivers; healthcare, rehabilitation and social service providers; and young researchers.

The lecture series will be led by scientists on the leading edge of spinal-cord regeneration research sharing findings and resources with SCI survivors and their caregivers, as well as offering an opportunity for questions and answers about their research work.

The goal of the series is to facilitate access to the latest information and resources available, to promote quality-of-life initiatives and to mobilize the SCI community to advocate on behalf of promising research. The series will also provide a forum for clinical physicians and researchers to discuss current research findings to help clinical physicians bridge the information gap from the research bench to patients. 

Additionally, HeadNorth will hold a one-day symposium with 70–80 postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and junior faculty to share biomedical and health-related research findings and challenges, providing them an opportunity to exchange ideas and expand scientific knowledge.

By current estimates, more than 3,000 SCI survivors are in San Diego County, Calif., and an average of 120 people sustain new spinal-cord injuries each year. The San Diego area is the hub of a number of leading research institutions including the University of California–San Diego, Scripps, Salk Institute and the Department of Veterans Affairs.


Professional Development & Education


Activity-Based Restorative Therapy through Multi-Modal Training

Rebecca Martin, OTR/L, OTD, CPAM

Hugo W. Moser Research Institute at Kennedy Krieger, Inc.


$50,000 (one year)

As people with SCI are living longer and the science behind stem cell interventions evolves, the quality of therapy a person receives has become increasingly important.

Research-based interventions using high intensity practice and repetition have shown promise in helping patients restore function lost to SCI. Evidence has shown that activity is necessary for optimization of functional, metabolic, and neurological input. Despite all this evidence, most centers continue with traditional therapy focused on compensatory strategies.

Our Activity-Based Restorative Therapy program uses a combination of rehabilitation techniques to provide near-normal input above and below the level of the lesion to optimize the nervous system for recovery and offset the rapid aging and chronic complications patients with SCI incur.

Using funds provided through the PVA Education Foundation grant, we’ll build our ABRT curriculum and methods for dissemination, including onsite workshops and online learning modules, to help other clinics improve the quality of care they provide for patients living with neurological insult.


ADED Annual Conference & Exhibits Scholarships

Elizabeth Green

ADED, Inc.

Hickory, N.C.

$15,000 (one year)

Driving is a critical link to independence in terms of work, family and leisure and is a large component of quality of life for many people.

Paralysis often results in an inability to drive a vehicle. However, the driver may have options available. The services of a driver rehabilitation specialist (DRS) are often necessary to evaluate the driver’s capabilities and identify the specific types and styles of adaptive driving equipment necessary to
getting back on the road. This service is customized to each driver, and driver rehabilitation is required before modifications can be made to the driver’s vehicle. The DRS is key to this process. 

Unfortunately, many areas of the country have no trained specialists available, or too few to serve the population. With generous funding from PVA, this grant project is designed to attract, train, and educate practitioners who can provide this valuable service in areas where there is an urgent need.

This PVA grant will allow practitioners to attend the 2013 Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED) Annual Conference and Exhibits. ADED’s focus is to increase the knowledge base of those already in the field and to attract new practitioners to the places they are needed most.


Rehabilitation in MS: Strategies for Physical & Occupational Therapists

Kelly Schrader, MPH, CHES

National Capital Chapter, National MS Society

Washington, D.C.

$10,000 (one year)

Rehabilitation in Multiple Sclerosis: Strategies for Physical and Occupational Therapists is a six-hour continuing education course directed to occupational and physical therapists who wish to learn more about rehabilitation for people with multiple sclerosis (MS).

The course is designed to maximize the quality of rehabilitation services available to individuals with MS by increasing the knowledge, skills, and confidence of therapists who work with them.

This education program will feature lectures from experts in rehabilitation and multiple sclerosis, discussion of case studies and a question-and-answer session. Curriculum for the program features topics including: an overview of MS, management and treatment of MS, a rehabilitation overview and approaches to specific MS problems, specific components of the rehabilitation treatment plan, case studies and discussion, tips and ideas for maximizing rehabilitation success, and the National MS Society as a resource.

By offering the program, the National Capital Chapter, National MS Society will further build its physical and occupational therapists referral database and develop relationships with participants interested in working with people with MS in the future.

For more information on the PVA Education Foundation and grants, visit


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