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MRC News

Published on January 16, 2002
Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service

JACKSON, Miss.—When North Wright enters the therapy gym at Methodist Rehabilitation Center, he looks in the direction he wants to go, gently leans his head toward a pneumatic trigger in the headrest of his wheelchair and rolls away.

Wright, a Wiggins resident who injured his spinal cord in a car accident in 2000, is paralyzed from his shoulders down. Physical therapists at Methodist Rehab worked with him to find a wheelchair that allows him to be more mobile and independent.

“With my old wheelchair I had to suck and blow on a straw-like device to move around,” said Wright. “The new chair makes getting around so much easier.”

Mark Bowden, therapy manager for the spinal cord injury program at Methodist Rehab, and physical therapist Allison Fracchia worked with Wright to make sure the new chair met his needs.

After his accident, Wright required 24-hour ventilator support to help him breath. But gradually through rehabilitation and determination he has improved and now no longer needs the ventilator.

“He just keeps getting better,” said Bowden who, along with Fracchia, customized Wright’s original wheelchair to accommodate the ventilator and other needs.

With the ventilator removed, Wright found he had more head movement and wanted to drive something else, he said. “We evaluated him for any other needs and then went to work fitting him with a new chair,” Fracchia recalled.

Bowden and Fracchia fitted the new chair with a device called a head-a-ray – a headrest with a series of switches in it that allow Wright to control direction, speed and braking as well as tilting and reclining.

Wright took to the new setup quickly. He came in to Methodist Rehab on a Monday and by Wednesday was independent in his new chair, Bowden said.

“This chair makes all the difference in the world,” said Wright. “I like it a lot.”

Bowden and Fracchia are two of only three therapists in Mississippi to hold certifications as assistive technology practitioners from the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA).

ATP certificate holders are trained in the field of assistive technology and are qualified to fit patients with special adaptive wheelchair devices customized to meet individual needs. Patients with severe injuries require these devices to live independent and productive lives.

Bowden is Ridgeland resident and a Salisbury, N.C., native. He has worked at Methodist Rehab for four years and holds a master’s degree in physical therapy from Duke University.

Fracchia has worked at the Jackson hospital for eight years and is a graduate of the University of Mississippi Medical Center. She is a native of Southaven and now lives in Flowood.