October 4, 2001
World Challenge fundraiser offers patient perspective
Toronto - One of Canada's leading specialists
in spinal cord surgery and nerve regeneration says groundbreaking research
underway in Canada and elsewhere holds new hope for thousands of spinal
cord injury (SCI) patients. Dr. Michael G. Fehlings' remarks came during
a special lecture held at the Toronto Western Research Institute as part
of Mike Nemesvary's 'Round the World Challenge in support of spinal cord
injury research and rehabilitation.
There are over 13,000 new cases of SCI every
year in North America, representing one of the leading causes of death
and disability in young adults. Estimates place the lifetime medical costs
of each young adult with a high cervical spinal cord injury resulting
in quadriplegia at over $6 million.
"Advances in our understanding of the fundamental
mechanisms of cell death after SCI are leading us toward promising new
therapies, including using sodium and calcium to keep cells alive," says
Dr. Fehlings, Professor of Surgery, Chair in Neural Repair and Regeneration
and Research Director, Division of Neurosurgery at the University of Toronto
in addition to his duties as Head of the Spinal Program, Toronto Western
Hospital, University Health Network. "At the same time, we are refining
new approaches to facilitate nerve cell repair and regeneration, including
gene therapies and stem cell transplants."
However, Dr. Fehlings cautions that it could be months or even years before his research translates into new surgical techniques or treatments, especially if funding is not sustained.
"For this reason, we must maintain our dual focus,
on research and rehabilitation," he concludes.
Dr. Fehlings' comments are by echoed by former
World Cup freestyle skiing champion Mike Nemesvary, who is on the final
leg of his mission to become the first quadriplegic to drive around the
world unassisted. Nemesvary, a three-time World Cup freestyle skiing champion
and budding movie stuntman who is now a quadriplegic as the result of
a trampoline accident, says there is much reason for optimism. He adds
that injury prevention, research and rehabilitation must go hand-in-hand.
"We are driving for a cure but, at the same time, we must ensure that organizations such as Think First have the support they need to educate everyone on how to prevent spinal cord injuries and that the Canadian Paraplegic Association, researchers and others have access to the resources they require for research, treatment and rehabilitation."
The Toronto Western Research Institute lecture
marked the arrival in southwestern Ontario of the 18-country 'Round the
World Challenge, begun on March 20 in Ottawa. The 40-year-old Nemesvary
has been paralysed from the chest down since 1985. He is supported in
his mission to raise funds for research and rehabilitation by sponsors
including the Government of Canada, We Care Home Health Services, Minto
Developments, and by global sponsor, Pfizer Canada.
"We are very proud of Mike as he nears the end
of his ground-breaking tour," said Jean-Michel Halfon, President and CEO,
Pfizer Canada Inc. "These are exciting times for research in this
area and we are very proud to support Mike in raising awareness about
people with disabilities and raising much-needed funds for spinal cord
Donations raised through the 'Round the World
Challenge will be administered in conjunction with the Canadian Paraplegic
Association. Public donations can be made through the RWC Web site (http://www.roundtheworldchallenge.org/), by telephone to (613) 274-7955 or through any office of the Canadian
The next stop in the seven-month long 'Round the World Challenge is in Peterborough on October 6, followed by Belleville (October 9), Kingston (October 11), Cornwall (October 13) and Montreal (October 15). Nemesvary hopes to conclude his 'round-the-world journey on October 23 at a public ceremony in Ottawa, on Parliament Hill. To date, Nemesvary has completed almost 40,000 kilometres of his 42,000-kilometre mission.
For a detailed Toronto itinerary, visit the RWC Web site (www.roundtheworldchallenge.org) or contact: