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Whistler fundraiser supports new spinal cord research centre

New VGH facility to be ‘best of its kind in the world’



By Andrew Mitchell

British Columbia is preparing to take the lead in spinal cord research and the treatment of spinal cord injuries, thanks partly to the efforts of Whistler residents John and Penny Ryan.

On Tuesday the provincial government announced an additional $12.9 million in funding for a state-of-the-art $45 million research and treatment facility that will be part of Vancouver General Hospital and house the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries, or ICORD.

The new six-storey, 11,000 square metre Blusson Pavilion — named in recognition of the Blusson family’s contributions to the Rick Hansen Foundation — will treat and rehabilitate people with spinal cord injuries, while conducting research into new methods for both treatment and rehabilitation.

Premier Gordon Campbell was at the groundbreaking for the new centre.

“This is the only facility in Canada, and one of only two in the world, that brings researchers from so many disciplines together with surgeons, physiotherapists and patients to discover and develop new therapies for spinal cord injuries,” said Campbell.

Whistler’s John Ryan — who was paralyzed in a car accident in 1994 and has spent the last eight years raising money for spinal cord research — says the idea for a new research centre has been in the works for a decade.

“It’s exciting, simply because I’ve known about the dream to build this centre for 100-plus years and now it’s a go to do it,” he said. “In talking to (ICORD director) Dr. John Steeves, I think this facility is probably going to be the best of its kind in the world when it’s up and running. It will make a huge difference in how spinal cord injuries are treated.”

In the past, the treatment of spinal cord injuries was decentralized, with hospital emergency rooms and rehabilitation centres like G.F. Strong accepting patients at different stages of their injury and recovery.

“Somebody like myself who has an injury will be there from the time they arrive in an ambulance to the time they leave,” explained Ryan. “Before it was quite fragmented, you had to go to certain places to get certain things. Rehabilitation was in a different facility, for example, and you had to constantly go back to the hospital for different tests and treatments.

“Now patients will even have the ability to come back post-rehab to get physiotherapy or occupational therapy, there will be fitness facilities specific to people with disabilities — it’s really one-stop shopping.”

The other benefit of the centre, Ryan adds, is that all of the researchers, doctors and therapists will be under one roof and working together. ICORD currently has more than 300 researchers, trainees, technicians and support staff working in 20 different locations around Vancouver who will be brought together in the Blusson Pavilion.