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Grand Prize Draw: Thursday, July 28, 2022
Written by Hometown Heroes Lottery on May 18, 2022

Reimagining Spinal Cord Care and Recovery

This story was originally published by VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation on April 8, 2022.

It was nearing the end of the day. The sun was descending behind the mountains around Whistler where Philippe Devos was snowbiking. Riding around, the avid adventurer found what looked like a fun jump to take. 

The first jump went great. Philippe decided he would like to jump it one more time. He rode around, lined it up and hit the gas. This time, everything changed. 

“When I landed with a jolt, one of my vertebrae burst and sent shards into my spinal cord. I was instantly paralyzed from the waist down,” says Philippe. “Every time I was asked to move my legs and I couldn’t, I was coming close to a panic.” 

Philippe lay in the cold until the rescue helicopters arrived and flew him to VGH, where he was brought under the expert care of Dr. Brian Kwon, Canada Research Chair in Spinal Cord Injury and Marcel Dvorak Chair in Spine Trauma at VGH. 

Luckily for Philippe, Dr. Kwon is at the forefront of spinal cord injury treatment and research, providing care for the most complex spinal conditions in patients, no matter where they are in BC. Dr. Kwon performed a complex and delicate surgery on Philippe the next morning, ultimately allowing him to be among the tiny percentage of paraplegics who regain near full function. Not two months after the injury, Philippe was able to walk again. Now he’s able to run, ride, paddleboard and more.  

Revolutionizing injury and treatment 

To Dr. Kwon, Philippe’s remarkable recovery is what he envisions achieving for all his patients. And with a brand-new approach to research and care, he believes he can forge a path to do just that. 

Just two months after his devastating injury, Philippe Devos was able to walk again.

“The idea is to create a continuous cycle of care and research, to ensure that VGH remains at the forefront of spinal cord injury treatment for the benefit of all British Columbians,” says Dr. Kwon. “I think the system so far has allowed us to provide exemplary, state-of-the-art care. And I believe there is even more we can do to expand the opportunities for many more of our patients to be part of cutting-edge research studies and receive novel therapeutic approaches.” 

Known as the “Living Lab,” this novel idea aims to ensure that patients who suffer a catastrophic spinal cord injury and are brought to VGH have access to the most advanced treatments and cutting-edge research studies to maximize their potential for recovery. It also will enable patients to be part of the scientific discovery process that will enhance and inform novel personalized medicine approaches. 

“We have to change the centuries-old story of spinal cord injury (SCI),” Dr. Kwon says. “Instead of accepting permanent paralysis after SCI, we must work towards a future where the application of scientific innovation can restore these patients to full physical function.” 

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