Improving recovery for survivors of brain injury “My job could not be more challenging or more rewarding,” says Dr. Nora Cullen. Cullen has been treating and researching adults with brain injury for the last 18 years with the goal of improving their abilities and quality of life. Her research involves identifying things that predict a better recovery and improve long-term outcomes. “We take the evidence and use it to steer the healthcare system towards better lives for our patients.” Dr. Cullen has been collecting data since 1999. “In essence, people with brain injuries can have issues with their ability to think, feel, move and act, depending on the location of their brain that was damaged and the extent of the damage.” In 2008, she linked with researchers from 10 different facilities across North America to collect information on over 2,200 patients in their first year of recovery answering questions about who gets a brain injury, how they are treated and how they recover. The team gleaned information about effects of various therapies and medications that impact recovery. Another area that’s not been well studied is with patients recovering from an episode involving a lack of oxygen to the brain, such as those who survive a cardiac arrest or near drowning. Called hypoxic-ischemic damage, it involves death of brain cells from lack of oxygen. Cullen has been exploring recovery patterns and how they compare to other trauma patients and the resources they require to reach their potential. Currently, she is working on a first ever project to find ways of improving the quality of life of patients with persistent symptoms of concussion through vision therapy. By identifying the ‘best model of care,’ comparing systems, and identifying systematic gaps and inequities in our system with a view to change, she believes a national set of standards for care of survivors of brain injury can be realized.
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