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Stefan Parent: Timing is Everything When a Spinal Cord is Injured

Born and raised in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Dr. Stefan Parent, MD, PhD discovered his career path as a teenager, when he became interested in surgical procedures after an ACL (knee) injury. Inspired by Rick Hansen, patients, as well as mentor and spine surgeon Dr. Hubert Labelle, his ethos is to ‘never give up’.

"I had the opportunity to meet Rick Hansen on his Man In Motion World Tour," the pediatric orthopedic surgeon and clinician-scientist recalls. I was asked to present Rick with donations at our school. I remember being really nervous and I was really impressed with his story. Did this meeting have an impact on my career choices? I like to think so."

More recently, Dr. Parent has been focusing on the treatment side of the medical profession. Treatment breakthroughs can make a huge impact on patients with an SCI. For example, advances in imaging technology and anesthesia over the last 10 years have helped surgeons develop minimally invasive procedures, more accurate placement of implants, and less tissue destruction which all help to greatly improve surgical outcomes and the quality of life for patients.

Establishing quick intervention guidelines is a current translational research focus for Dr. Parent and his team. They are seeking breakthroughs in treatments immediately following injury that will help reduce the level of paralysis.

"Compared to other conditions, most of our patients are completely unaware of how a spinal cord injury will [completely] impact [all aspects of] their lives," Dr. Parent notes.  "This is a life-changing event and we need to find ways to improve the lives of people living with an SCI."

The longer the time between the injury and the definitive treatment, the more likely patients will have complications, longer length of hospital stay and a decreased likelihood of neurological recovery.

Although not common, the fact that we now intervene more rapidly may have a positive impact on the patient’s neurological recovery.  Dr. Parent notes that "…we sometimes see patients six to twelve months after the SCI who come to the office, proud to show us that they can move their legs or stand without walking aids."

However, the patient population is changing drastically. The fastest growing segment now is seniors.

More reasons, he feels, for Canadians to continue supporting research led by the Rick Hansen Institute.

"The Institute’s work promotes more comprehensive care and fosters new multicentre studies," he observes.  "The full-scale impact of our work may not be apparent for several years to come but the Institute’s contribution to the care of patients suffering from SCI is very important."