Monday, April 25, 2016

Brain implant helps quadriplegic man move again

For most of us, movement is easy.  We think about an action, and our limbs instantly follow our brain’s command.  But for people like 24-year-old Ian Burkhart of Dublin, Ohio, something (often a spinal injury) has interrupted that line of communication.  That’s why Burkhart and others who have quadriplegia experience loss of motor functions: the connection between brain and limbs has been broken.

But researchers are now working on a way to bypass the need for that connection entirely, and Burkhart has been helping.  Two years ago a chip was implanted in Burkhart’s brain, and it is capable of reading the activity of several hundred neurons inside his motor cortex—the part of his brain that controls hand movement.  An external computer then interprets that activity, and in turn sends signals to a sleeve of 130 electrodes that Burkhart wore around his right arm, enabling different muscles in his arm to contract or be stimulated at his command.

It was not an instant or easy process.  The computer that interprets brain activity had to be taught to essentially interpret a kind of human thought, a complicated process that took many hours.  Burkhart had three sessions each week for 15 months of learning how to use the sleeve and how to think in a way that the computer could understand, sessions which he described as initially mentally exhausting, fatiguing, and like seven-hour exams.  To make his hand and arm move again, he noted that he had to break down each part of the motion and think about it in a more concentrated way, a process he says he took for granted before the accident that left him unable to move his arms and legs.

Still, even with all the work, Burkhart still enjoyed having some of his motor function back.  He’s been able to pour from a glass, move objects, and swipe a credit card.  A woman in 2012 was able to move a robotic arm using her thoughts, but this is the first example of so-called “limb reanimation” in a quadriplegic patient.  Burkhart believes it is more natural and intuitive, since he can see his own hand responding to his thoughts.

Doctors admit that it will be at least a decade before technology like this will be available outside of a lab.  There are several hurdles to overcome, including the need for a chip that can listen to more neurons, as well as a more portable computer to interpret the signals.  As for right now, funding for the project is set to run out later this year, forcing Burkhart to relinquish his newly gained abilities.  It will be difficult for him, he said, as he enjoyed it so much.  But he is hopeful that with enough people working on the project, he will someday be able to use it outside, which, he says, could really improve his quality of life.

You can learn more about Ian Burkhart and this limb reanimation technology from the original study in the journal Nature, as well as from The New York Times,  the Los Angeles Times, and the BBC.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Kiwanis Memories: An interview with former capstone student and current CLAS adviser Laura Marsh

Photo courtesy of Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp

Welcome to Week 4!  Those of you in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) may already know Laura Marsh, a pre-health adviser.  We recently sat down with Ms. Marsh to talk about her own experience as a student enrolled in the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp capstone, and to see what advice she has for future counselors.

Why did you decide to take the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone?
    Yes, that’s a good question.  I was working at Portland State full time, so I was actually attending here part time.  I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, but I was lucky enough to be working in an office of advisors who were able to talk to me about different options.  And as soon as I heard about Kiwanis Camp, I knew that this was the right capstone for me.
    I think in part because, when I first started college in California I was at a community college, and they had a program called Transition to Independent Living, which allowed students with different needs to be integrated into the campus community.  It was a relatively small program, but I had a work study with the program, so it was my job to do Friday night fun stuff.  It was a really great opportunity for me to be able to work with that population, and they were my peers, and it was exciting.  So when I heard about camp I knew that I didn’t have a bunch of experience, but that I had some, and I knew I enjoyed it. 
    And I also love the outdoors, and growing up here in Oregon, you know, we camped a lot, and so I knew I would be okay with the outdoor part of camp as well.  The fact that it was a camp, and it was over the summer, and it would be done in two weeks…all of those things were very appealing to me.  I was able to take off vacation time and worked it that way with my job, which was very nice.  Of course I had supportive people, so that was also wonderful.  And then I signed up, and the rest is history.

How did you feel in the weeks leading up to the capstone?  Were you excited, nervous…?
    I remember being very nervous.  We had a great orientation that happened in spring, and I don’t remember how long it was, but it was a nice chunk of time where they kind of allowed the soon-to-be-counselors to get a sense of what camp was going to be like.  I remember they had a couple of parents [of the campers] come in, and share their experiences about what camp meant to their kids.  So I think that helped to settle my nerves a little bit, or at least give me a good idea of what it was going to be like and the structure of it.
    Obviously it was a very structured and supportive environment, but leading up to the days of starting camp?  That’s when the nerves really hit, and I had just a mix of emotions from excitement to just pure nervousness to “oh my gosh, do I really want to do this?”  So yeah, it was definitely kind of a roller coaster of emotions.

Photo courtesy of Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp
Can you tell us a little about what the interactions were like between yourself and the campers?

    Once we got there, they have a time for just the counselors to get to know each other.  And that to me was such a critical piece, because we all were very nervous, and we really were feeling a lot of the same emotions.  So I think that put us all at ease, and it allowed us to really get to know our group members that we were going to be with for the two weeks.  So that was really exciting.
    Leading up to it, where I think I got a little nervous was just—the first week we were going to have boys, and [I was] a little concerned about some of the personal care and if I was going to be comfortable doing that.  And I was able to express that with my assistant counselor supervisor and counselor supervisor, and then what we decided was that week I would get a camper that was maybe a little bit more independent, and that way I could ease into that.  And it worked out beautifully. 
    So the very first week we had a group of boys (well, they were young adults), and my camper was Tim.  And he was amazing.  And he actually was more of an expert than I would ever claim to be about Kiwanis Camp, and many other things.  He was also into martial arts, which was amazing.  So Tim actually knew, because he had been going for such a long time to camp, he knew more about camp than I ever did.  So he was truly more of my partner than I felt like I was his counselor.  It was really cool.  And he was just a really great way for me to ease into things a little bit, and then I was able to, throughout the week, help my group members as needed.  You know, if they needed breaks or help with anything.  Tim was so, so independent and fabulous that it allowed me to do that on my own schedule and my own comfort level, which was nice. 

Do you have any favorite memories from your time in the capstone that you’d like to share with us?
    Yes, I do.  So, second week I had a little bit more of a challenging camper in a good way: Janelle.  They were like, “Well Laura, you did great the first week, now we’re gonna put you to the test,” so I actually had probably one of the more challenging campers I think for the whole session.  She was amazing, and she was nonverbal so it was a little bit challenging in that way, and I learned a lot during that time about patience and really putting somebody else’s needs before my own.  At that time I wasn’t a parent, and hadn’t really ever had to do that before, so that was a great experience.
    Favorite memories?  You know, I think one of my favorite memories was with Tim.  So Tim was determined to climb the wall.  I don’t know what they call it, just the rock climbing wall.  But it was relatively new at camp I think at the time, and so campers had to get invited to it.  And so all week I was trying to drop his name and do what we needed so that Tim could get his invitation to the wall.  He was not making it a secret at all; everybody knew he wanted to tackle that wall.
    So he got the invitation and we went to go do the wall, and I just was so excited and so happy for him because it was something he wanted to do so bad.  And it was an interesting time.  Tim tackled the wall, he made it partially up the wall before he decided he was done, so he came back down and he turned to me and he was like, “your turn!”  And I was like “Wait.  Whoa!  This was your thing, Tim!”  Like, I’m cheering you on.  And so the tables were a little bit turned because I was there cheering him on and trying to get him to go a little higher, and then all of a sudden I found myself climbing this wall, which I had no intention…had not prepared, was NOT excited about.  But I did it!  And I didn’t make it to the top, but Tim was there coaching me.
    Like I said, in many ways he was like my buddy more than I was—you know.  I think that was something that I didn’t really realize going in: how beneficial it was going to be for me personally.  I thought I was going to be there to help them have a good time, which we did, but at the same time I was able to learn to challenge myself in ways.  It was a fun time. 

And finally, what advice do you have for future counselors?
    As an adviser I do get to talk a lot about camp.  I try to promote it a little bit in a way because I think it's such a wonderful experience, and like I said before, I think in ways that we don’t always know it’s going to be.  Like, really what it’s like to put somebody else’s needs before our own, and then also to just be in a truly authentic situation where nerves end up going away, and you break your barriers down of being nervous and unsure of yourself.  For me it was a real confidence builder.
    So advice going in, I think I would tell students “it sounds like its going to be really easy—two weeks!—but it’s really not.”  And not in a bad way.  But the purpose of your being there is to make sure that that camper’s experience is the best that it could possibly be.  And that’s that whole putting somebody else’s needs above your own and before yourself.  So I think going into it that way, but also advice…Knowing that you have a lot of support.  Kiwanis Camp is extremely well-structured, there’s a ton of support there, and things are very well scheduled, and they run really smoothly.  And there’s always going to be bumps in the road, but there’s always a lot of support.  So, I think going into it with an open mind, and just willing to have fun and be silly and sing camp songs and enjoy the beautiful camp.  I mean, the camp is amazing, and so to go out on a canoe which I had never done before, and have this amazing view of Mt. Hood and those types of memories…I will never forget.
    So advice: just be open to new experiences.  The nerves will be there—I always tell students you’ll get nervous—but power through it, because it will be well worth it in the end.

Photo Courtesy of Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp

Special thanks to Laura Marsh for providing us with this interview.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Local high school basketball team breaks down barriers

Unified Sports, a Special Olympics program, aims to promote the social inclusion of people with intellectual different abilities through the creation of inclusive sports teams.  Now, the program is making a local impact with a Unified basketball team at Washougal High School.

The team is made up of both general education and special education students, and they practice together three days a week.  During the season they have games every Saturday, and they compete in division one, which is considered to be a competitive category.  Participants have been vocal in their support for the program—sophomore general education student Jessie Larson says that she is a better person because of the experience, and special education student Michael Neketuk says he loves the school’s support.

A few of the participants already had some experience with the Unified program: they volunteered in the Unified soccer program last spring.  Larson is one such student, as is senior Brennan Guiles.  It was Guiles love for soccer that brought him to the program, but he soon found he liked the special education participants too, and he says he loves seeing how happy they are about life.

KGW covers the Unified Sports team at Washougal High School.

Coach Dani Allen notes some of the benefits for the special education students: they have to remember to bring their shoes and practice clothes to school, and have their uniforms washed for games.  Being on a team is a big self-esteem booster, Allen continues, saying that the team as a whole has great camaraderie and that individuals are able to build friendships in a way that’s not possible to do in the classroom.

Volunteer coaches advise the team.  Funding comes partly from the WHS special education program, and partly from a $2,000 grant from the Special Olympics for uniforms and equipment.  The games in Unified tournaments are free to attend.

You can learn more about the Washougal High School Unified Sports team from the Camas Post Record, The Columbian, and from KGW.  Learn more about the Unified Sports program and find coaching resources on the Special Olympics website here.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Camp photos and another counselor letter

Happy Week 2 of Spring Term, everyone!  The first session of the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp capstone is now FULL, but applications for the remaining sessions are still being accepted.  If you’re still considering taking the capstone this summer, now is the time to apply.

Whether you’re still considering applying, are already enrolled, or are reading this because you’re an alumni or have other interests in MHKC, we hope you enjoy these photos that provide a glimpse into the magic that is the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp capstone.

Following the photos is a short letter written by a former counselor, which was part of the “Letters to Future Counselors” assignment that students receive at the end of the capstone.  This letter gives further insight into the experiences that counselors and campers alike enjoy every year at camp, and you can read more like it here.  Enjoy!

All photos courtesy of Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp.

Dear New Counselor,

        I hope that you are as excited as I was on day one.  Your fears will settle and your positive attitude will carry you far.  Utilize every opportunity you have to get to know your group of counselors, they are more valuable than gold coffee up here.  Personal care is not as gross or intimidating as you may think.  It just is, so do what needs to be done, wash your hands, and keep moving along.
        Bring snacks next week and share with your group during meetings.  Chocolate is very necessary.
        Feel safe enough to cry and know that you can ask for help.  Understand that your idea of the ideal camp experience may not fit into your camper’s life.  Consider their needs, do your best, and rest when you are given the time.
        This will be hard.  This will be incredible.  Magic happens in the pool and happy tears bloom.  Never give up, and remember to live.
        I believe in you.  Good luck!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Welsh woman receives "bionic eye"

 Photo courtesy Laitr Keiows/Wikimedia Commons

A woman from Wales recently regained some of her sight after a rare disorder caused near-complete loss of vision.  Now she is learning to see again—and it’s all thanks to a real-life bionic eye.

Rhian Lewis was given the implant last June, in an operation that took place at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, UK.  The implant takes the form of a tiny, 3x3mm chip that contains about 1,500 light sensors that send electrical signals to her nerve cells (see a picture of it here).  The chip is powered by a metal coil connected to a small computer that is placed underneath the skin behind the ear, and from the outside, the whole thing looks similar to a hearing aid.

The resolution isn’t very good yet—it’s less than 1% of a single megapixel—but it’s enough to make a big difference for Lewis, who has been virtually blind in her right eye for 16 years.  The 49-year-old from Cardiff, Wales recently went in for follow-up testing of the device at John Radcliffe Hospital, where she received the implant as part of an ongoing trial.  One of the tests involved looking at a cardboard clock the researchers had set up to see if she could see where the hands were pointing.  When Lewis correctly identified the time depicted, she said it felt like Christmas day.

Lewis has retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that destroys light sensitive cells in the retina.  She’s never had vision in dim lighting at all, and about 16 years ago she lost all vision in her right eye and most vision in her left.  She says it’s been about eight years since she’s know what her children look like.  And the condition affects simple things too, she continues, like going clothes shopping and not being able to tell what she looks like.  Now she says she gets excited every time she’s able to do something like find a spoon or fork sitting on the table.

It wasn’t an instant change.  It takes a few weeks for the human brain to learn how to interpret the signals from the type of implant she received, and at first the only things perceived by the patient are bright flashes.  Lewis is able to adjust the device’s contrast and sensitivity using dials on a hand-held power supply, though, and she is continuing to practice interpreting the signals it sends to her.  The images may not be very clear yet, but for Lewis, the experience of seeing them at all is exhilarating.

The team behind the implant hopes the technology can one day be used by people with other types of visual impairment, such as age-related macular degeneration.

You can learn more about Rhian Lewis and her "bionic eye" from The Guardian, as well as from the BBC.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Why Choose Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp?

Welcome to Week 10 of winter term, everyone!  By now, those of you who are juniors or seniors may be thinking about your senior capstone.  Those of you in the Department of Special Education may be looking for a practicum.  So why choose Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp?

Here at MHKC we could write for pages about the benefits of camp, but we think the counselors and staff in the video below, titled "Why Choose MHKC," say it best. 

(For the perspectives of more counselors who have already completed the capstone, feel free to browse our "Letters to Future Counselors" tag.)

Download an application here (PDF), and join us this summer at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp. 

Without further ado, please enjoy the video.  For deaf or hard of hearing readers, or those who prefer text, a transcript of the spoken words in the video is provided below.


Rory Shipman, Capstone Student:  Camp has been awesome.  It's been really…I don't know, it's just a very very happy place for me.

Emily Derr, Capstone Student:  I think coming to camp is a safe haven, and signing up for this and going through all the experiences we learn that it's a safe haven for the campers, but I think a big thing too is it's a safe haven for the counselors.

Cheyne Corrado, Capstone Student:  Seeing the smile on one of our camper's faces today, you just know that they're having the time of their life.  And it's, like, literally brings tears to my eyes because it's just they don't get to do this often.  And it's like, it's why we're all up here.

Haakon Weinstein, Capstone Student:  It's—it's scary, and it's fun, and it's exciting, and it's exhausting.  It's like, all encompassing.

Kasey Larsen, SPED Masters Student:  You get to see people kind of grow.  Their characters get expanded.  Their—little parts of them start to come out.

Dave Bahr, Counselor Supervisor - MHKC Staff:  It allows me to see what I wish the rest of the world would be like as far as inclusion and acceptance and tolerance and, uh, promotion for everybody.

Narrator:  Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp is a camp for children and adults with disabilities.  Each summer, over 200 PSU students complete their capstone project or elective course by working as camp counselors, supporting their campers as they enjoy many outdoor recreational activities and build lasting friendships.

Shipman:  I think within my first 24 hours of being here, I was just walking around, I hadn't even met my first camper yet, I didn't even know who I was going to be hanging out with for the first week, and it just kind of dawned on me that this place is really special and it just…it needs to continue, forever.  Like, Mt.—this, this place just needs to be here for a very long time.

Derr:  I think the highlights of the past week-and-a-half is just working with all these different adults with different abilities, and kind of learning from them.  This week I have learned from them what kindness truly means, what love truly means, what friendship truly is.  Coming in, we kind of all help each other out, and my group, E, with Dave, we kind of just formed this one big group bond as a family.

Shipman:  There is a huge amount of support here.  Everybody here is here to help you, your CS's, your ACS's, the directors…everybody here wants to see you succeed.

Weinstein:  We get to take people canoeing or zip lining or swimming.  It's like, it's stuff that you'd want to do at camp but you're helping facilitate this for someone that may not otherwise have an opportunity to do it on their own.

Derr:  Adventure course, they team up, they're super high-energy, they kind of get them involved a little bit more.  I think there they face their fears, and I think it's a time for us as counselors to kind of motivate them and push them, and that's where the group bond kind of comes in, to try and encourage them to do something that they would never do at camp and only get to do at camp.

Narrator:  Campers aren't the only ones pushing their boundaries.  Counselors learn new skills while bending old perceptions.  Laughter, encouragement, and team-building lead to unexpected growth, and getting silly is also a hallmark of Camp Kiwanis.

Larsen:  You've got to be willing to just be silly, look ridiculous, you don't know how to dance just shake it, shimmer it, just do anything that you need to do.

Shipman:  You can be silly, and nobody, like, is going to think you're weird.  Um, like, I wore a tutu to one of the dances, and that was funny, and everybody liked it, and I don't dance, like I'm just not a person that dances, but I danced every single day at camp.  [Laughs.]

Weinstein:  The camp songs are really fun, uh, although they're probably going to be stuck in my head for a couple weeks after I'm out of here.

Campers and counselors, singing: Some sticky sticky waffles.

Song leader, singing: A mozzarella pizza.

Campers and counselors, singing: A mozzarella pizza.

Derr:  Coming in I didn't realize how much that I was going to learn from this experience.

Larsen:  This has really helped build some skills that I need heading into my career.  You—you want to know who you are when you come out of this; it's the person you want to be.  You can, you're, within this society of camp, you wanna be somebody who contributes to here.  And then when you step out of camp, you wanna be someone who's contributing to society.  And this is a great way to know who you're going to be as that person outside the bigger picture, outside this camp.

Weinstein:  It's been really fun learning how to, um, interact and be, um, encouraging, motivating.  You learn a handful of skills when you get up here in the training, and then to see them in action, and then you feel like you had a part in a camper's great experience while they're, you know, pushing themselves beyond their, uh, perceived limits.  It's really fun.

Corrado:  Dealing with certain campers that, um, are maybe nonverbal, or just have different ways of expressing communication and emotions, and then seeing them express, like, happiness and joy in an activity that maybe you would think that they wouldn't be able to do, is like the most rewarding piece of it.

Larsen:  Being able to communicate…how does that, how does that camper communicate, and how can I communicate with them, whether that be picture schedules, whether that be prompting, whether that be just, um, just modeling for the, for the camper, and so it's really just…each camper's different.  They all have their own personality, they all have different ways in which they learn and experience things, and so you really just have to mold yourself to each person.

Bahr:  Camp is an opportunity for everybody—campers and counselors and staff—to grow, and I think we are all kind of in this journey of, of growing together, and this is an experience for that, uh, to happen.  Camp is really just a vehicle for that self exploration and that self discovery, uh, which is really neat, um, to see and be a part of, and I think it's a really valuable experience for everybody to leave with.

Shipman:  I think that Mt. Hood is just going to, like, always have a special place in my heart.

Corrado:  Once I got here, it was the best decision ever.

Weinstein:  I think one of the biggest things that I've learned here is, like, to not judge.

Corrado:  The nerves are okay, and once you get here, you will be in awesome hands.

Shipman: Just don't be afraid to ask for help, don't be afraid to ask questions.

Bahr:  My biggest piece of advice is probably just to come with an open mind and a willingness to do whatever it takes to push yourself.  Um, you're going to find that your capabilities go beyond what you thought your limits were.  And you, what you put into it is definitely what you get out of it.  And it's, um, so, um, it's going to be some hard work but it's going to be very well worth it and very rewarding in the end.

Weinstein:  I would suggest this capstone to anybody that's interested in having, whether this be there intention or not, a life changing experience.  I don't care if you're a Business student, or a Psych student, or Anthropology, or Nursing—Nursing would be really helpful—um, or Accounting, whatever, like, this, this experience will change your life, and it'll make you feel good, then it'll give you a new perspective.  So, highly recommend it to anybody.

Counselors and Campers: Go Group E!  Woo!

Monday, February 29, 2016

More Letters to Future Counselors

Today we are continuing our series of posts in which we share Letters to Future Counselors written by former counselors during their time in the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone.  You can read our past posts in this series here and here.  We hope you enjoy these letters, and if you'd like to come be a part of this experience, applications to become a counselor this summer are open now!  Find them on PSU's website here.

And now, we present our first letter (please note that letters may be lightly edited for clarity, and names are redacted for privacy reasons.):

Chill out.  Everybody talks about how exhausting and hard it's going to be.  It's gonna be really time-consuming and it will definitely take a lot of energy but it's only two weeks and it's so positive that I don't see how someone can burn out.  You're here because you want to learn, so learn!  Learning means you'll make mistakes, so make mistakes.  Just don't let this idea of "omg it's going to be sooo hard" get you down before it even starts.  It's not like you're working in the E.R., you're helping take care of people so they can enjoy camp for a week.  Let yourself enjoy it like they do.  Do the dances, sing the songs, wear silly costumes, whatever.  This is the only place where you won't be judged for silliness or personality quirks.  As long as you're doing your job and treating everyone with compassion and kindness, go nuts!  You're gonna do amazing out there!


And now, our second letter:

My experience here has been like a roller coaster.  Every night my group discussed our highs and lows for the day, and it was amazing to me how I could think of a low in the moment during an activity and by the time of the meeting, completely forget about it because of all of my highs.  Each activity is the best activity ever until the next one comes along to trump it.  The amount of care that goes into this camp, the love and support felt by the campers and counselors, and the progress witnessed here should not be taken for granted.  Kiwanis Camp is a pretty remarkable place full of special people who not only work here, but vacation here too.  I'm so happy I was fortunate enough to have been a part of it, and I will reflect on my experiences socially and professionally in the years to come.


We hope you enjoyed these letters.  Once again, if you'd like to join us this summer, apply to be a counselor here.  We hope to see you at camp!