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Spinal cord researcher carries Rick Hansen’s legacy forward

Posted by Samantha on Nov 10th, 2011 and filed under Gallery, Research, Top stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Working in David Ditor's Welsh Hall lab are, from left, graduate student Hisham Sharif, Pat Kowal of Burlington, Ditor and undergraduate student Jessica McGuire.

Working with functional electrical stimulation in David Ditor's Welch Hall lab are, from left, graduate student Hisham Sharif, Pat Kowal of Burlington, Ditor and undergraduate student Jessica McGuire.

For someone with a spinal cord injury, the little things matter.

The ability to roll over in bed. The ability to lift yourself from your wheelchair to your car. The difference between requiring someone to accompany you to a restroom and being able to do it independently.

It’s with this knowledge that David Ditor operates his research lab, a unique facility that gets spinal cord injury patients mobile.

Ditor, an associate professor of Kinesiology, has dedicated his career to increasing the independence and quality of life of people with spinal cord injuries. His work, which has several ties to Rick Hansen, has earned him a place as a medal bearer on the St. Catharines leg of the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay. He will also be profiled by CTV as one of 25 Difference Makers in spinal cord research.

It’s inspiring to participate in the anniversary relay, Ditor said.

“Rehab centres like mine would simply not exist if not for what Rick Hansen did 25 years ago.”

Spinal cord injuries are life altering, said Ditor, whose research receives funding from the annual Rick Hansen relay. But the secondary ailments it causes – cardiovascular and respiratory disease, urinary tract infections, sores on the skin, and more – can be just as devastating. His lab aims to decrease the impact and likelihood of those secondary ailments.

David Ditor

David Ditor

Even for someone with total paralysis, just increasing the size of the muscles has health benefits. For example, it improves the ability to store glucose and therefore reduces the risk of diabetes. It also provides better cushioning for the buttocks while sitting and helps to prevent pressure sores from developing.

About 20 people with spinal cord injuries currently use Ditor’s lab at Brock. By next year, he hopes to move into a larger lab and at least double the amount of people using it. Anyone in the community with a spinal cord injury is welcome to use the exercise lab free of charge. About $50,000 for the new lab has come from the Rick Hansen relay.

Ditor’s lab is staffed by three graduate students – Hisham Sharif, David Allison and Jackie Cramp – and a number of undergraduate students. The students are inspired by the people who use the lab, he said.

“When people start out coming to the lab, they’re very unsure about their abilities,” he said. “They may be socially isolated. They aren’t sure what they can do. We get to be hands on in helping them get through that stage.”

Ditor’s team works on the knowledge that even incremental improvement to someone’s physical condition can change that person’s life, he said.

“Take, for example, the ability to roll over in bed,” he said. “If you don’t have the strength to do that, you have to rely on someone to move you every three or four hours. Just being able to do that is a drastic improvement.”

Ditor will participate in the Brock portion of the relay at about 12:25 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 14. He will be one of three medal bearers from Brock.

Stay tuned to The Brock News for the exact time and location of the relay events.

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