The inspiring recovery of Canadian soldier Trevor Greene is paying dividends. Greene's courageous recovery (from a horrific axe attack in Afghanistan), using "visualization," has given scientists clues into how the brain can rewire, and fix itself.
Using magnetic resonance imaging equipment supplied by Vancouver Island University, researchers tracked the Naniamo resident as he visualized himself rowing to reroute pathways in the brain.
The findings give hope for people with brain injuries currently considered untreatable. "I think this is a very dramatic case study," said Stephen Lindsay, a University of Victoria psychology professor involved in the three-year study.
In 2009, Greene had to be hoisted in a sling from his wheelchair to the MRI bed. Now he can stand, pivot, and sit on the bed with the help of his wife, Debbie. And he now practises walking at his Nanaimo home.
A strong rower before the injury, Green visualized rowing during training. MRI scans showed increased activity in the same brain regions, a discovery that has rehabilitation professionals keenly interested. "It demonstrates, consistent with other research, that the brain has the capacity to recover, and that the brain can reorganize itself to help where needed," Lindsay said.
The study team included Lindsay, Dr. Ryan D'Arcy, then leader of the National Research Council's Institute for Biodiagnostics, in Halifax, and a B.C. leadership chairman in medical technology at Simon Fraser University and Surrey Memorial Hospital.
VIHA supplied technology and expertise for the research project, one of more than 250 it's involved in.
Greene suggested researchers measure leg movement, because his ultimate goal is to walk again.
An experienced competitive rower, he also suggested measuring visualization using MRI. It showed intensive therapy and visualization changed brain activity while he regained physical abilities.
"We have to be pretty cautious about generalizing from any individual case (but) the overall message that comes from looking at Trevor is: There is more hope for recovery than people might have thought," Lindsay said.
"It's important for brain injuries, because conventional wisdom now is after six months you're not going to get any better," Greene said.
"I've been healing for (more than) six months, and (now) hopefully (people with) brain injuries won't give up on themselves."
The results will be peer reviewed and published.
"While we have a growing appreciation of the brain's plasticity, its ability to relearn, rewire and adapt, the brain injury community's ability to apply that information to patients is in its early stages," said D'Arcy.
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