Teamwork and Collaboration Keep Hope Alive

Added on Apr 14, 2016

By Diana Mahoney, Editorial Director

Ian guitarIn 2014, Press Ganey opened its National Client Conference with a short video documentary focusing on the powerful relationships that develop among patients, families and caregivers during times of crisis, and the critical role those relationships play in reducing suffering and improving the value of care.

Among the patients featured in the video was Ian Burkhart, a young man who suffered a paralyzing injury in a diving accident. Ian’s family described how they were buoyed during their time of devastation by Ian’s care team from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. These caregivers not only provided top-quality clinical care, but they also supported Ian and his family by meeting their need for information, compassion and communication at every juncture.

Since that time, Ian’s care team has expanded to include researchers and engineers from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center Neurological Institute and Battelle, a Columbus, Ohio-based nonprofit research and development organization. The multidisciplinary group collaborated on the development of a novel neural bypass system designed to enable communication between Burkhart’s brain and his right hand and fingers, bypassing his injured spinal cord.

Burkhart underwent a three-hour surgery to implant a computer chip into the motor cortex of his brain. The team then worked together to determine the electrode stimulation sequence that would bridge Burkhart’s brain and the muscles controlling his hand and fingers.

Through a combination of technology, innovation, perseverance, hope, faith and, of course, teamwork, Burkhart has become the first ​person with quadriplegia to move his fingers and hand with his own thoughts. Not only can he move them, but he can also swipe a credit card, pick up and pour from a bottle and even play Guitar Hero—seemingly simple tasks that belie intensive mental training and a sophisticated machine-learning algorithm that links patterns of neuronal activity to specific movements.

The technology and the groundbreaking results are detailed in a study published online in the journal Nature and in a recent New York Times article.

The technology holds tremendous promise for people with spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries and stroke. “The first time moving my hand—that was really just like that flicker of hope,” Burkhart said during a media briefing. It also speaks volumes about the role that teamwork, commitment and collaboration play in feeding that flicker of hope, keeping it alive and watching it grow.