NRN Spotlight: TIRR Memorial

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on April 07, 2016

You don’t need to look far to find incredible stories of accomplishment in the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network (NRN). Every day, people living with spinal cord injury are re-gaining lost mobility and improved quality of life at six clinical centers and six Community Fitness and Wellness Facilities across the country.

Dr. Eugene “Gene” Alford is one of them.

In 2007, Alford, a surgeon who specializes in cosmetic and reconstructive facial plastic surgery, sustained a T9 incomplete injury when a tree fell on him at his family farm in Texas. He began therapy at the TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital NRN center in Houston four months after his injury.

“Going to the NRN was a transforming experience,” said Alford. “I was very active before my injury and the NRN gave me access to the cardiovascular fitness I needed. Having the ability to maintain a level of activity throughout my time at the NRN was essential.”

A type 1 diabetic, Alford had a substantial decline in his insulin use as a result of his NRN exercise.

“I went from using 60 units a day to below 45 units,” said Alford. “The most important thing you can do as a diabetic is exercise and my results confirmed that this is still true in people with a spinal cord injury. It gave me the sense of regaining some control. That I could do things to make my life better. It was very uplifting.”

Alford’s spasticity and bowel function were also controlled during his time in therapy. Although he regained some movement, he is unable to support his own weight. Two years after his accident, Alford was able to return to work as a facial plastic surgeon.

“Using a standing wheelchair, I have been able to return to my practice full time, just like I used to do, which is a direct result of the NRN.” said Alford. “There is no doubt that the NRN made a huge difference in every aspect of my ability to return to work and the activities of daily living.”

Like many NRN participants, Alford’s insurance initially denied coverage, but eventually covered the therapy. Alford says he would return to the NRN in a heartbeat.

“I’ve lost some of my stamina and strength since I’ve been out of the program,” said Alford. “But I look back at my time there and I know I am so good now because of it. One of the hardest things about having this injury is the fear of isolation. If not for the NRN community, depression could have separated me from any type of happiness. Going to the center forced me to get up every day. I looked forward to it. The friendship, comradery, support and encouragement were not fake. They build the self-reliance and sense of accomplishment that you don’t get elsewhere.”

Marcie Kern, NRN Clinical Supervisor at TIRR Memorial Hermann, is proud to recount dozens of stories, like Alford’s, of other participants who have improved mobility, bowel and bladder function and overall quality of life. For some, the road to recovery is windier than for others.

Ginger Garrett was paralyzed from the waist down in November 2004 after sustaining a spinal bleed caused by a cavernous hemangioma lodged between her 11th and 12th thoracic vertebrae. Her time at the NRN had several ups and downs.

“When Ginger started in the NRN, she was ambulating with bilateral Lofstrand crutches and bilateral ankle-foot orthoses,” said Kern. “Early on, she developed a stress fracture. Then she developed Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis. She’s also had some knee pain. But despite her various injuries, she’s continued to make forward progress.”

Garrett followed the NRN protocol two hours a day, five days a week. Today, thanks to Locomotor Training at TIRR Memorial Hermann, she’s walking with two crutches.

“Ginger made great progress,” said Kern. “She’s a hard worker and is very motivated. Her strength has increased to the point that she can step correctly with proper alignment and use the appropriate muscles, with less compensation. She hasn’t used braces on her ankles for a long time.”

Garrett is pleased with her progress. “I can’t say enough good things about the people at TIRR Memorial Hermann,” she says. “They’re fun to work with, dedicated to what they do, and they really care.”

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.