Ramblings on healthcare, medical education, and life with a spinal cord injury
Random header image... Refresh for more!

A Gift

One of the questions I get asked frequently is how I’m able to participate in surgery.  It’s a perfectly valid question, especially when using a manual wheelchair to get around the hospital.  The primary issue when using the manual chair isn’t as much the process of scrubbing itself, although there are inherent challenges to that. But the main problem is how to move around the room while remaining sterile. As soon as I touch the wheels, I’d be contaminated. So the end result would be requiring someone, which would probably end up being the circulating nurse, to move me around as needed.  This is certainly less than ideal.

When I was back in rehab, I wrote about how I might participate in surgery using a standing wheelchair. It was somewhat a treatise in theory and planning. I also referenced Dr. Peter Galpin who has already done such a thing in the 1980s. Two years ago, during my first year in medical school, I contacted Dr. Galpin and we spoke on the phone at length about mechanics and details. He was fantastically helpful, both in sharing ideas and his experiences, and also in offering to write letters on my behalf to anybody that might be helpful. I also spent time in several ORs with surgeons, getting exposure to the environment and the unique challenges I would be faced with.

I quickly came to the conclusion that in order to fully maximize my time in the OR, I would have to somehow get ahold of a standing wheelchair – which is no easy task. It’s not something insurance generally pays for, as it’s not “medically necessary.” They’re out of my price range as a student. They’re not rented, because they’re only required by a very small segment of the population and it’s not cost effective to rent them. So suffice it to say, the only option was to somehow have one purchased or provided to me. I pursued a number of sources of funding, mostly running into dead-ends. Dr. Galpin had gotten state funding through disability services offices, so I started down the path with the Ohio Rehab Services Commission. I’m still working on that after more than a year and a half.

One of the outlets we tried at the recommendation of my physiatrist here in Cleveland was the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation. They fund programs supporting SCI research and rehab, and so with the help of my physiatrist and one of my deans at school, we applied for an institutional grant (they don’t give individual grants) for the Case School of Medicine. The application was for a power standing wheelchair, to allow students with SCI to fully participate and attain a medical degree.

The application process took over a year from start to finish, but, our grant request was ultimately approved! In late November, I met with the manufacturer and vendor of a particular brand of standing power chair and we went over the various options and specs. The order was placed, and the chair delivered at the beginning of January. Literally on day two of my long-awaited surgery rotation.

So my eternal gratitude goes out to the Neilsen Foundation for the wonderful opportunity they have given to me and hopefully to future Case Western medical students who will also be able to use the chair. It truly is a wonderful gift that helps to further level the playing field and give those with different physical abilities the opportunity to maximize their medical educations. I know it has already proven to be an invaluable asset in the past month on surgery, not only in the OR, but also outside of it in various other clinical settings. It has enriched my education, and I hope it will be able to enrich the educations of future students to follow me. When I think about how many things I would have missed out on without it, it is quickly very clear just how great an asset the device truly is.

And for that, the Neilsen Foundation has done something wonderful. I can only imagine the other ways in which they’ve further helped those living with spinal cord injuries, and I hope they are able to continue funding worthwhile research and rehab projects for a very long time.

Be Sociable, Share!