Collaborative Treatment and Rehabilitation Programs Offer Hope to Spinal Cord Injury Patients

The Acute Spinal Cord Injury Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) partner to provide a continuum of state-of-the-art care for persons with spinal cord injuries. These two programs have a longstanding collaboration and are jointly known as the Midwest Regional Spinal Cord Injury Care System.

Together, they comprise one of the first four centers in the United States to receive a Model System grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. The programs received the model system designation and grant more than 30 years ago and now are among 14 centers nationwide with the designation. The grant provides federal funding to support the innovative programs in spinal cord injuries care that help to differentiate Model Systems centers.

The grant is awarded to centers that provide emergency medical service, acute medical and trauma care, psychosocial counseling, rehabilitative care and long-term follow-up. Additionally, centers must conduct research to advance the treatment of spinal injuries. “We use the most-up-to-date methods in the management of patients with spinal cord injury, says David Chen, MD, medical director of Spinal Cord Injury Acute Care and Rehabilitation at Northwestern Memorial and RIC and associate professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Feinberg School. “Our collaborative programs provide the treatment and rehabilitative components necessary to help patients return home so that they can live independent productive fulfilling lives.”

Because of the highly technical nature of treating patients with spinal cord injury, it is important to have a team of specialists available to immediately treat patients, including physicians who specialize in emergency medicine, trauma surgery, general surgery, neurosurgery, orthopaedic surgery, anesthesia and physical medicine and rehabilitation, as well as nurses, technicians, a range of services, and state-of-the-art technology. The specialists work together to provide the acute care, initial surgical and medical management, acute rehabilitation, long-term rehabilitation and maintenance.

“We facilitate a smooth transition from the recovery to the rehabilitation component of care,” says John C. Liu, MD, neurosurgeon on the medical staff at Northwestern Memorial, clinical director of minimally invasive spine surgery with the Department of Neurological Surgery and associate professor of Neurological Surgery at the Feinberg School.

The specialists at RIC are involved in patient care from the time the patient is first treated at Northwestern Memorial. “We begin rehabilitation as early as possible, and once the patient is transitioned to RIC, if surgical issues arise, physicians on the medical staff at Northwestern Memorial can go there to quickly evaluate the patient,” Dr. Liu says.

All of the neurology and orthopaedic nurses at Northwestern Memorial receive training in caring for patients with spine conditions. “When an individual sustains a spinal cord injury, it is a life-changing, often devastating event with a lot of emotional issues. Our nurses know when they need to call another specialty, such as pastoral care, to make sure all the patient’s needs are addressed,” says Robert Forney, RN, MS, CNRN, NE, BC, director of Neuro/ortho Nursing administration at Northwestern Memorial. “In addition to having a specialized background in dealing with the unique medical issues these patients have, our nurses are also experienced in care for the whole patient and the patient’s family.”

Clinical Research

At Northwestern Memorial and RIC, patients benefit from the wide range of clinical research studies that are underway to examine advanced treatment options for patients. “As a model system site, we often are sought out by the industry when new developments are emerging, such as a new drug, a new intervention or a new device,” says Michael H. Haak, MD, orthopaedic surgeon on the medical staff at Northwestern Memorial and assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Feinberg School. “Through these research studies, we are continually evaluating new and innovative therapies that often are not available elsewhere.”

Resources at Northwestern Memorial

Recent Advances in Spine Surgery
Spinal Cord Injuries

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