Stevermer receives $60,000 SCI CAN Foundation grant for mobility research

SCI CAN's Chris Norton and family present a $60,000 check to Katie Stevermer and Des Moines University representatives.
Representatives from the SCI CAN Foundation, including Chris Norton, present a $60,000 check to Katie Stevermer and President Angela L. Walker Franklin and members of DMU’s Department of Physical Therapy.

DMU took another step this spring in efforts to help people become more mobile: Catherine “Katie” Stevermer, P.T., Ph.D., GCS, assistant professor of physical therapy, was awarded a $60,000 grant from the SCI CAN Foundation to expand research efforts on mobility and develop new research collaborations on therapeutic interventions for individuals with neurologic impairments.

The grant is the largest award ever given by SCI CAN and will go toward the purchase of a ProtoKinetics Zeno Convertible Walkway, a system that captures standard gait parameters and allows for the evaluation of walking, turning and clinical rehabilitation tests.

“The funding allows us to expand our collaborations with other entities to start developing our ability to assist with patient outcomes evaluation, and eventually lead to some studies on interventions in which individuals with neurological impairments can participate,” Stevermer says. “The first phase is having the equipment available for us to work toward the partnerships with other entities who serve these individuals.”

The SCI CAN Foundation was started by Chris Norton and his family after Chris, then a student at Luther College, injured his spinal cord in a football game in 2010. He was given a three percent chance of regaining any movement below his neck. Through hard work, intense rehab and access to the necessary therapy equipment, in May he was able to walk across the stage, with assistance, to receive his degree from Luther.

“Honestly, when [the three-percent diagnosis] happened, it went in one ear and out the other. It was not going to determine who I was or what I will be,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on May 28, two days after the DMU grant announcement. “I just had my mind set.”

At the DMU announcement, he told KCCI TV, “I really want to expand our foundation and to help more and more people — to keep spreading our funds and to benefit those who need it most.”

SCI CAN’s mission is to promote the “long-term health, wellness and recovery of individuals with spinal cord injuries and other neurological disorders by providing opportunities that do not currently exist,” says Terry Norton, Chris’ father. The foundation board “had a lengthy discussion” about how the grant to DMU would support that goal.

“DMU has a tremendous reputation not only in this area but across the country,” Terry adds. “We have felt for some time partnering with DMU was the right thing to do and would be a way to impact a large number of individuals.”

The 20-foot Zeno Convertible Walkway contains more than 46,000 concealed electronic sensors, and it can be set up as either a two-foot or four-foot wide walkway. It has the capability to capture standard gait parameters – such as gait speed, step length and cadence — and pressure data either in a laboratory or clinical setting. It integrates with specialized software to allow for the evaluation of walking and turning and for clinical tests such as the Timed Up-and-Go or Four Square Step Test.

The Zeno walkway will allow advanced gait and balance analysis during skilled walking activities to more specifically quantify the effectiveness of clinical interventions and wellness programs. It will enhance current and future collaborative research between DMU and external clinical entities that may address the transfer of rehabilitative training to real-world settings. The walkway also may be used in a portable fashion for classroom training of entry-level physical therapy students or community outreach events.

“By educating clinicians and students on evidence-based interventions, therapists can better advocate for patient resources, and future patients will benefit from a higher quality of care,” Stevermer says.

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