Calgary doctor awarded $3.5M to expand national stroke recovery program

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Calgary doctor awarded $3.5M to expand national stroke recovery program
A Calgary doctor is part of a team awarded over $3.5 million to expand a national CanStroke Recovery Trials platform. As the number of people having strokes rises, CanStroke can't meet the needs of the community without expansion. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, robots and artificial intelligence are now being used to helped people who have had a stroke recover faster – Jun 18, 2023

Don Snider has come a long way since having a stroke six months ago. The  healthy 53-year-old Calgary man had no family history of stroke.

He first started feeling a tingling numbness in his lower leg and lower right arm. Fortunately he made it to the hospital, but said the scariest part was feeling the stroke happen.

“I was lying in the bed and it was like an artist did a sketch of you and they pulled out an eraser and they just started erasing from my foot up and it was slowly disappearing. I could see I had a body, but it didn’t exist and I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed and I was afraid I was going to suffocate — that it would spread to my diaphragm and I couldn’t breathe and it stopped at my neck,” Snider recalled about the stroke he suffered in November 0f 2022.

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Snider was paralyzed on his right side for days. After months of being a wheelchair and rehabilitation at the Foothills Medical Centre he was able to walk again.

“I always say that the doctors in emergency keep you from dying and the therapist give you a chance to live,” Snider said. “In recovery, the therapists are the unsung heroes. They are amazing. The therapist always give you hope.”

More than 60 per cent of Canadians who have a stroke are left with some disability.

Snider is part of the CanStroke recovery trials led by Dr. Sean Dukelow at the University of Calgary.

In the five years since it was established, CanStroke has attracted global attention for making a difference in the lives of stroke patients.

CanStroke Recovery Trials is a Calgary-led national platform involving a  group of researchers from across Canada.

Dukelow says a recent $3.6 million grant has the potential to dramatically change how stroke recovery is managed in Canada and around the world over the next 10 years.

“Getting the Brain Canada funding is massively important for our group of researchers. It will allow us to conduct multi-centre clinical trials which are going to bring new technology and new therapies to patients who have had a stroke and try to help them recover better from Vancouver to St. John’s,” said Dukelow, a professor in the department of clinical neurosciences at the University of Calgary and a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

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With five trials underway and another five in development, CanStroke can no longer meet the needs of the community without expansion, according to Brain Canada.

Stroke survivors are now being recruited for a study where they use the Kinarm, a robotic exoskeleton, as a tool to improve their arm function.

“We are seeing a huge confluence of different technologies — many rely on machine learning or artificial intelligence that may pave the way for where we go in terms of the future of rehabilitation,” Dukelow said.

CanStroke is actively recruiting patients across Canada after they’ve had a stroke to be involved in some of the novel therapies in order to prove they work and that they’re beneficial to stroke survivors.

Dukelow said artificial intelligence is now coming up with new concepts human researchers didn’t see.

“We asked what’s the most important thing that the computer sees out of this data and hundreds of patients and it kicked out something that none of us really expected. So we said,  ‘OK we missed something in the traditional way of looking at things,'” Dukelow said.

Snider still has difficulty moving his hand but remains hopeful for his future progress.

“My hand is  kind of robotic but it gets better every day and I’m walking now. I was in a wheelchair for several months,” Snider said.

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Snider’s best advice for others recovering from stroke is to remind them their progress may have ups and downs.

“Your progress isn’t linear. If someday your hand doesn’t work, focus on your foot. If your foot doesn’t work, focus on your hand. If you are having trouble speaking, just slow down and follow the instructions the therapist gives you,” Snider said.

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