Occupational Therapists and “The Challenge”

Sam Schmidt, paralyzed in a racing crash in 2005, was back on the bricks of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Quadriplegic Indycar driver Sam Schmidt drove this adapted 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray on the Indianopolis Motor Speedway.

I was checking out the Advance for Occupational Therapy website when I came across an article discussing an adapted racecar that was created so that quadriplegic Indy Racing League driver Sam Schmidt could drive it at the Indy 500 and in doing so bring awareness to his organization “Conquer Paralysis Now.” Schmidt was injured in a crash in 2000 and became a quadriplegic, and he has been “a champion for paralysis research and treatment” since the accident.

After doing a little more digging into the story behind this adapted racecar – mostly because it was a Corvette and I wanted to find a picture to show my Corvette-obsessed boyfriend – I found out about this really cool research competition Schmidt has begun. In an effort to speed up the race towards a cure for paralysis, Schmidt’s Conquer Paralysis Now (CPN) organization is initiating a project called the “SCI Challenge” that “will provide incentive for research scientists and the business community to team up by providing major cash awards for meeting specific milestones toward the final goal of a cure.”

As a future occupational therapist reading this article, one part of it that piqued my interest was the section that mentioned the importance of creative thinking and the breakthroughs that can happen when people approach problems from new perspectives.

Occupational therapy is all about teaching people to approach problems in their lives from new perspectives, solving problems creatively and encouraging “cognitive flexibility.” That’s why it is a career that is perfect for me and of great value to its many consumers! As I have volunteered with occupational therapists, read the literature, read articles about successful OT interventions and applied the principles of creative and flexible thinking in my life, I’ve seen how important it is to be able to consider problems from different perspectives and integrate knowledge and information from multiple fields into OT treatment and daily life.

The Conquer Paralysis Now team also realizes the importance of flexible and creative thinking, as CPN’s president noted: “As for the idea of using prizes to fuel potential breakthroughs, CPN president Ida Cahill was charged with investigating that in the early stages of the project. She noted today that such prizes have been used at many points in history.

“Great Britain offered a prize in the 1700s because they lost an entire naval fleet because they couldn’t measure longitude,” she said. “So they decided to offer a prize and thought Sir Issac Newton would win it. But it turned out [the winner was] a clock maker [John Harrison]…

“What those prizes said to us is [that] we’re looking for a clockmaker. We’re looking for someone approaching this in an entirely different fashion.”

In this respect, I guess that OT’s are the clockmakers of the world!


Another interesting part of the article was its discussion of the “functional recovery” stage of the Challenge, which CPN president Cahill says “can mean different things for paraplegics and quadriplegics.”

“If you asked people who are paraplegics…they’re looking for [their] privacy [and] bowel, bladder, sexual function,” she explained. “When you get to somebody who is a quadriplegic, they will say, ‘…I would love to move my fingers. I would love to be able to hug my children or my loved one, brush my teeth, comb my own hair.’ They have different wants and needs than the paraplegics. But this Challenge we’ve put together addresses both of those issues.”

As I read this part of the article, I realized that not only are occupational therapists perfectly suited to helping paraplegic and quadriplegic people regain the “privacy” they seek, but they can also be of great service to people who are looking to regain independence with toileting and sexual function. Occupational therapists are also highly educated about the use of adaptive equipment that can help quadriplegic people brush their teeth or comb their hair as independently as possible. Another part of the Challenge involves research that will hopefully lead to a cure for paralysis, and so it could also possibly be of importance to researchers in occupational therapy and occupational science as well!

The possibilities for occupational therapists’ involvements with this initiative are endless, and I will be sure to keep an eye out for more information about the Challenge when it is officially announced and put into action later this year!

3 thoughts on “Occupational Therapists and “The Challenge”

  1. Dan Smith May 23, 2014 / 11:18 am

    Question: is paralysis in paraplegics and quadriplegics caused by inhibitions of different systems (I actually dont know how it works, but I guess different sets of nerves being ‘locked’) or the same system but with differing levels of severity (like its a single set of nerves with varying degrees of nonfunction?) sorry if this is stupid, I really just dont know the specifics behind paralysis

    • lej1123 May 24, 2014 / 2:21 pm

      Hello Dan! In response to your questions, I found a pretty good article from the National Health Service that explains the four main causes of paralysis in addition to some other disorders that can cause paralysis as well. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/paralysis/Pages/Causes.aspx

      In short, paralysis is most often caused by “damage in the nervous system, especially the spinal cord.” And the four most common causes of paralysis are “stroke, head injury, spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis.” I hope this helps!

    • lej1123 May 24, 2014 / 2:25 pm

      Oh! And I forgot to answer the first part of your question. Paralysis in quadriplegics and paraplegics differs based on the location in the spinal cord where the damage or injury took place. Typically, if the lower portion of a person’s spinal cord is damaged, he is more likely to lose motor function and sensation in his lower limbs. The higher up the injury occurs, the more parts of the body are affected — an injury occurring higher up on the spine: “A neck injury, such as a broken neck, will usually result in tetraplegia (paralysis in all four limbs, also known as quadriplegia), as well as a loss of normal lung function, which means the person will need to use a ventilator to breathe.”

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