TAMPA — Retired Marine Lt. Col. Ty Edwards gripped a vertical bar attached to his power wheelchair and pulled himself upright.
Edwards couldn't stand by himself until his physical therapist at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center came up with the idea for the StandBar. The device is being patented by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
As the VA endures allegations of poor care, wrongful deaths and delayed medical care across the country, Haley officials spent Thursday highlighting researchers' work advancing medical care. Much like a science fair, researchers at the Tampa hospital packed an auditorium with rows of displays.
Edwards was shot during an ambush on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan and is paralyzed on his right side. He started working with therapist Karl Hayward soon after arriving at Haley in 2008. Hayward explained the science behind the bar while Edwards demonstrated to guests.
Hayward, who has worked at Haley for 40 years, noticed a problem with patients who had multiple injuries.
"They weren't able to push off from an armrest of a chair safely so I wondered 'What if they could pull themselves up?' I attached the bar to a power chair, which is heavy like a nice paperweight, and immediately every guy who has tried it has stood right up," he said.
Other research highlights included how traumatic brain injuries affect vision, the effects of human umbilical cord blood cells on treating heart tissue after a heart attack, and how a program to get jobs for veterans with spinal cord injuries improves their health.
In an experiment to test the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on a part of the brain that controls memory, researchers placed rats in a small box with holes in it and smeared cat food on the outside. The box was put in a cage with cats to induce PTSD in the rats. Researcher George Farmer found that stress damaged the rats' memory.
Also on display was the Million Veteran Program, a push started three years ago to collect DNA from 1 million veterans nationwide that will allow researchers to explore how genes affect health and illness.
Researchers hope it will lead to identifying genes that cause cancer and those associated with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and PTSD. Once identified, screenings could allow for preventive measures and better treatments. So far, 270,000 samples have been collected nationwide. In Tampa, where collection started in November, the count is 980 with a goal of 20,000.
Participants must complete health surveys and donate blood at a participating veterans center. To participate at Haley, call (813) 972-2000, ext. 5687.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.