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Ways the Kessler Foundation Changes Lives for People Using Wheelchairs


Editor’s Note: Justin Stanley is the research recruitment specialist for Kessler Foundation – they’re in the business of rehabilitation research. Kessler Foundation works closely with Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation, a rehabilitation hospital that’s been around for a very long time but is actually separate from Kessler Foundation.  Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation provides acute inpatient and outpatient treatment for many chronic conditions, including spinal cord injuries, strokes, traumatic brain injuries and multiple sclerosis.

Kessler Foundation distributes the latest research that helps to advance the cause of rehabilitation medicine. According to Stanley, “My job is to help recruit people with these different types of injuries or diseases to be part of the various studies. We mostly recruit outpatients not in acute rehabilitation facilities.”

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New Research Happening at Kessler Foundation

The Kessler Foundation is conducting numbers of studies using exoskeletons – wearable mobile machines powered by a system of motors, pneumatics, levers or hydraulics. Many medical companies are beginning to develop exoskeletons to possibly help people with spinal cord injuries improve their walking and have positive mobility outcomes. The Foundation has a team of engineers and physicians working with people in the hospital to try out the exoskeletons. A visitor can come to Kessler Foundation and see people with spinal cord injuries who are in wheelchairs standing up and walking around with the exoskeletons.

Meet the Ekso test pilots at Kessler Foundation:

We’re involved in research from the acute care level to long term outcomes.

Kessler Foundation 2011_FES_DavidM_28The Foundation looks at research for ways to improve acute care, and we consider different variables involving infection and the use of various surgical methods.

Also we look at ways to improve the process of rehabilitation. Right now we’re studying an investigational drug in combination with intense locomotor training to see what the possibility can be for people with spinal cord injuries. With locomotor training, we take advantage of many technological advances. For instance, there are treadmills that work in conjunction with harnesses that help support the person’s body weight, sometimes as much as 90% of the body weight, while the person walks on a treadmill. So, this form of rehab may help someone to walk who hasn’t been able to because of paralysis or weakness.

Since my job is to help recruit people for our various studies, I go to places like the
Abilities Expo, support groups and other patient organizations and talk about the research we’re doing at Kessler Foundation. When we find people interested in being a part of our studies, I take their information and make sure that these people can connect to the studies we are conducting.

For example, someone may want to participate in the combination study I’ve mentioned using treadmills with harnesses and the investigational drug and do the locomotor training on the treadmills that I’ve described. We have to have people with disabilities who are willing to work with our doctors and engineers to learn ways to help people with disabilities to become more active.

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The Beginnings of Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation was started by Dr. Henry Kessler, a veteran of World War II and a physician, who worked with many veterans who had had amputations and soldiers with disabilities from World War II and other types of injuries resulting from the war. He also worked with coal miners who had work related injuries, as well as children who were injured or disabled. His goal was to push the science of rehabilitation far past where it was when he started working and treating people with disabilities. Dr. Kessler relied heavily on new research being developed in the medical community to try to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities at that time. Also he was anxious to try new equipment being developed for people with disabilities.

An interview with Trevor Dyson-Hudson, director of the Spinal Cord Injury lab:

Today, Kessler Foundation is one of the leaders in studying and trying to help develop newer and better adaptive equipment.

Kessler Foundation NRN_EricL_14OCT14_06Often I’m asked, “How did the Kessler Foundation pull together doctors, physical therapists, engineers and research scientists to investigate how to produce equipment and rehabilitation techniques to improve the lives of people with disabilities?” Most research takes place at universities or at companies that make adaptive equipment for people with disabilities. But Kessler Foundation always has been linked to hospitals.

Kessler Foundation has two locations in West Orange, NJ, one of which is on the campus of Kessler Institute.We always have had a scientist/practitioner model for our research. We work with doctors in hospitals who are very passionate about research, and we’re supported by a team of talented research assistants as well as psychologists and engineers.

While these doctors are practicing medicine in the hospital, they can come over to the Foundation’s research department and say, “I really want to see if this medicine or this equipment will help my patients. Let’s set-up a study, and investigate what the outcomes will be, if we use certain types of equipment, build a specific kind of equipment or test a new type of medicine in conjunction with a specialized piece of adaptive equipment.”

Kessler Foundation has a really unique situation by using hospital staff to identify problems that people with disabilities have and then researching these problems and trying to find solutions to improve their quality of life.

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Besides having a good relationship with hospitals and the doctors in those hospitals, we have a great working relationship with several universities in our area.

Football star Eric LeGrand is a familiar face at the Kessler Foundation.

One of the universities we work with includes Rutgers University, one of the biggest research universities in the country that also has its own medical school. We work too with the New Jersey Institute of Technology, which is an engineering school, and Seton Hall University, which has a very good program.

Our main office is in the northeastern United States, right outside of New York City and Newark, New Jersey, in West Orange, New Jersey. We have this incredible pool of talent from which we can draw. The floor below Kessler Foundation is a biomedical engineering lab that will make any university proud.

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Sometimes we are confused with Kessler Institute that’s owned by Select Medical, a medical corporation that has practices and institutes all over the United States. Kessler Foundation is one institute, and Select Medical is a completely different company. Kessler Institute and Kessler Foundation were both started in West Orange. We work closely with Kessler Institute, but we are separate organizations.

Kessler Foundation 16People with Disabilities Encouraged to Participate in Research at Kessler Foundation

We have many studies that take place between researchers and people with disabilities over the phone as well as through the Internet to help us improve the state of their care. Then people with disabilities can be a part of our study worldwide. Also some of our studies are funded to an extent that if someone wants to come to our facilities in West Orange, we can host him or her for overnight stays.

Some of the research studies include the combination study I mentioned earlier, using the investigational drug approved by the FDA for multiple sclerosis patients and the harnesses and treadmills for them and people with spinal cord injuries.

Also for people who live close to New Jersey, the Foundation provides a skill training group – once per week for several months – to learn to navigate with wheelchairs up and down stairs and do wheelies, etc.

Meet Donna, who participated in locomotor treadmill training with Kessler Foundation:

Another group focuses on wheelchair (both power and manual) maintenance. You also can participate in a totally online study on improving the pain of spinal cord injuries and learn about the use of 3D printers.

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The Science of Rehabilitation Pushes Forward

One of the Kessler Foundation’s scientists, Dr. A.M. Barrett, developed a new treatment for a condition that’s very common after some type of brain injury known as spatial neglect. Spatial neglect occurs when someone has a stroke or a traumatic brain injury that creates a complicated deficit in perception – seeing, hearing and movement.

Spatial neglect is the brain’s inability to pay attention to the whole side of the body and to the whole space around you. This condition is like a person wearing blinders.

One of the phenomenon that occurs with spatial neglect is a person can see what’s happening, if you direct his or her attention to the space around him or to the side of the body that’s being neglected. However, if you don’t direct his attention to that side of the body or that area, then the person doesn’t know that part of the body or that space exists. This condition has a huge effect on a person’s ability to have success in therapy and impacts the individual’s quality of life – for instance being able to drive.

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Dr. Barrett has designed some prism goggles with glass prisms in them that can be adjusted to trick the brain to see the center of space as a completely different place than where the eyes are looking. These goggles cause a patient to see the midline of space as the part of the body or the space that’s being neglected. Next the patient is given exercises to help restore the ability to pay attention to that side of space and/or his or her body.

So, these goggles and the exercises help the patient be able to see the neglected side of the space and be aware of the neglected side of his body. By making the patient aware of the side of the body that’s being neglected, then the chances of restoring function to that side of the body are much greater.

Kessler Foundation 17To see in more depth how these goggles can help to restore function, you can go to a video where Dr. Barrett was interviewed by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on “Everyday Health.” In this show, Dr. Gupta wears the goggles. This video is a good example of the type of research and development being done at the Kessler Foundation.

Contact Kessler Foundation

For more information about the new studies or to participate in some of them with Kessler Foundation go to https://kesslerfoundation.org/; you can call me at (973) 243-6812, or email me at jstanley@kesslerFoundation.org. I will be happy to talk with anyone about the research studies we have on going and connect them with the research assistant who can provide more information. Kessler Foundation also has a website and a YouTube channel and a sound cloud that hosts podcasts about our research.

Kessler Foundation’s YouTube channel is https://www.youtube.com/user/KesslerFoundation.

Meet Michael Loura, a Kessler Foundation / EKSO Bionic research participant:

About the Author:

John-E_-PhillipsFor the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at www.johninthewild.com.

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