October 4, 2001

Toronto neurosurgeon offers new hope for spinal cord injury patients

'Round the 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 research." 

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 (, by telephone to (613) 274-7955 or through any office of the Canadian Paraplegic Association. 

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 ( or contact:

Further information:

Mary Heenan
Senior Consultant, Delta Media
416-962-2227 (cellular: 416-575-7339)

Janet Casselman
Communications Manager
‘Round the World Challenge
(cellular: 613-261-4605)