Trevor’s inspirational road back to health
Trevor Greene is a journalist, elite athlete and Canadian soldier brutally injured during a posting to Afghanistan in 2006.
An axe blow to Trevor’s skull resulted in a severe brain injury that was predicted to leave him in a permanent, vegetative state. This prediction could not have been further from the remarkably successful recovery that followed.
Seven years later, now living in Nanaimo, Trevor, along with his wife Debbie and team of therapists, has worked tirelessly to find a way back.
The key to Trevor’s recovery is something called neuroplasticity—the brain’s inherent ability to alter its circuits to wire and rewire itself. Utilizing his elite athlete training experience, Trevor spends hours every day training to compensate for the damage. Four years after his injury, he was able to speak type, sit up and stand—an amazing recovery for someone who was told he would never be able to function again.
Trevor’s recovery became the focus of a research study that included the Vancouver Island Health Authority. Working in partnership with by Dr. Stephen Lindsay, a professor in the department of psychology at UVic and Dr. Ryan D’Arcy, a B.C. Leadership Chair in medical technology at Simon Fraser University and Surrey Memorial Hospital, the Health Authority provided the technology and expertise necessary to conduct research.
After learning about Trevor Greene through the media in late 2009, Dr. Ryan D’Arcy, then leading the National Research Council’s Institute for Biodiagnostics in Halifax, and UVic’s Dr. Stephen Lindsay came together to work with the Greenes on a research project to measure Trevor’s progress over the course of three years in order to capture Trevor’s example within the context of neuroscientific study. They approached the Vancouver Island Health Authority to ask them to partner on the project to provide access to a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine and the highly skilled technical staff necessary to undertake this project. The study used functional MRI to measure activation changes in Trevor’s brain as he progressed in his goals to regain movement. “It was crucial to the success of the project that we had access to an fMRI and the skilled staff to run it,” said Lindsay. “The Vancouver Island Health Authority was a key partner in this project by providing both.”
Trevor Greene was not only the subject of this research study, he helped shape the project by working with the researchers to determine what to measure (leg movement was chosen, as walking is Trevor’s ultimate goal).
Trevor also suggested they measure visualization, taking images of his brain as he visualized rowing. Trevor was a competitive rower with thousands of hours of rowing behind him, so imagining this activity is as natural as breathing.
In functional MRI, the MRI system measures activation changes in the brain and shows the parts of Trevor’s brain involved in movement.
By monitoring this, the evidence clearly shows that Trevor’s intensive therapy and visualization bring changes in his brain activity while he regains his physical abilities.
When the research began, Trevor had to be hoisted in a sling from his wheelchair to the MRI bed, but by the time it ended, he was able, with help from Debbie, to stand, pivot and sit on the bed.
Moreover, he is practising walking at his home in Nanaimo. Trevor’s MRI scans show greatly increased brain activity over the same time, and, interestingly, he activates the same regions when he visualizes rowing, a discovery that is catching the attention of many rehabilitation professionals.
“This is an important discovery,” said Lindsay. “It demonstrates, consistent with other research, that the brain has the capacity to recover and that the brain can reorganize itself to help where needed.”
The results of this research are currently being prepared for publication, to ensure that the discoveries are widely available to brain injury experts around the world.
“While we have a growing appreciation of the brain’s plasticity—its ability to relearn, rewire and adapt—the brain injury community’s ability to apply that information to patients is in its early stages,” added D’Arcy.
This research would not have been possible without the partnership between organizations, and just as importantly, the role of the participants in shaping the research. “People may not realize it, but research is essential to the ability to provide the best care for patients,” noted Lindsay.
The Vancouver Island Health Authority conducts a wide range of health research studies designed to answer important questions. Knowledge gained from this research can then be applied to improve the quality of care and quality of life for residents of Vancouver Island and beyond.
Currently involved in more than 250 research projects, VIHA is actively developing partnerships with world-class research institutions like the University of Victoria and Royal Roads University.
“Our goal is to expand our research capacity by working with partners; we are also looking at ways to better engage the public and our patients in the research process,” says Cindy Trytten, research director for VIHA. “It’s an exciting time for research on Vancouver Island.”
Trevor Greene and his family live in Nanaimo, where Trevor is now able to walk around his home using mobility devices. Trevor and Debbie have written a book about this experience titled “March Forth: The Inspiring True Story of a Canadian Soldier’s Journey of Love, Hope and Survival.”
Visit www.marchforth.ca for more information.
Patient use is a priority; the MRI was only used during off-hours so that no patient testing was displaced for this research, and the researchers’ grants covered the costs associated with this project.
Moreover, this project nicely illustrates how an individual can simultaneously be a patient, a research participant and a member of a research team.