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Spinal cord researcher speaks from experience

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  • Spinal cord researcher speaks from experience

    Spinal cord researcher speaks from experience
    Rehabilitation specialist studies exercise for those with similar injuries
    Thursday, August 28, 2003
    News Business Reporter

    Most physicians learn their field in medical school and from work with patients. Bill Scelza has that experience and more.

    A 32-year-old specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan Hospital, Scelza is a paraplegic. A car crash at age 17 left him with a spinal cord injury and no leg function.

    During his residency, Scelza led a research study, part of the Wellness with Spinal Cord Injury Project, that pinpointed why patients with spinal cord injuries often do not exercise. If the barriers could be lowered, say Scelza and fellow researchers, people with spinal cord injuries would live longer - and healthier.

    Scelza was an athlete before the crash, and continued after recovery. At the Edwin Shaw Hospital for Rehabilitation in Akron, for example, he had watched a wheelchair basketball team. "The most inspiring thing was nothing that anyone had said to me, but to see them just live their lives like anyone else," said Scelza, who later competed around the country with the Cleveland Wheelchair Cavs.

    As a student at Case Western Reserve Medical School in Cleveland, Scelza was expected to complete the same program as other students, which meant he often had to improvise - like lowering a bed to examine a patient. "It came down to just adapting to the situation at hand, and using my experience, and maneuvering myself as best I could," he said.

    These days, Scelza's exercise program includes basketball, tennis and swimming. With his wife, Beatriz, he also chases Dominik, their 9-month-old son.

    Scelza worked with researchers Eric D. Zemper and Denise G. Tate on the barriers to fitness study.

    The national spinal cord injury database estimates about 230,000 people around the country have spinal cord injuries, and that the number grows by about 11,000 each year.

    "We're finding that with improved care, more and more people are surviving spinal cord injuries and living longer," said Scelza. It means they're also developing problems associated with aging. "Some people think exercising won't help," he added. "It goes with a fear of worsening their injuries or not knowing what to do." And if not done appropriately, he acknowledged, exercise can cause further damage.

    But not exercising means damage almost certainly.

    Heart disease, for example, is a cause or contributing factor in 22 percent of all deaths among people with SCI, says the report from Scelza's group. They found less than half of 72 patients ages 20-80 were in an exercise program - even though three of four said they'd like to be.

    And less than half of their physicians urged exercise.

    Major barriers included lack of motivation, lack of energy and cost of exercise programs.

    Additionally, almost half of respondents said they didn't think a fitness center could meet their needs.

    Tom Hoatlin understands. As director of development at Ann Arbor's Center for Independent Living and a spinal cord injury victim, he regularly counsels newly injured spinal cord patients at the U-M Hospital. For him, he said, exercise is crucial.

    "People like me who have had complications - infections, for example - struggle in contemplating our long-term health." From both research and personal experience, he finds exercise "makes a huge difference in feelings and outlook."

    To lower the barriers, said Scelza, fitness centers must become more accessible and fitness instructors more knowledgeable. Also, he said, more research is necessary to determine long-term effects of physical exercise on SCI patients.

  • #2
    There needs to be more doctors like this.
    Experience is the greatest of all teachers
    it seems. And the average physician..well just can't get past their own believes. And
    some of those are very dangerous.

    The heart being the central muscle of our entire bodies..well anything we can move..
    I say move it. If it stops moving so be it..

    The adviced sedentary lifestyle isn't going over with me..I don't think ever.
    Sometimes you just want to say physician heal
    thyself and leave me alone.

    We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what
    we give.
    Winston Churchill
    Life isn't about getting thru the storm but learning to dance in the rain.