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

A photo of a large crowd gathered outside Fanning Hall at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp.  The building itself is in the background; it is brown, with a large sloping green roof.  A sign above the entrance reads “FANNING HALL.”  The crowd is gathered into clumps of various sizes in front of the building, and appears to be made up of people of varied ages and attires.
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.

Please note that camper names have been changed.

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.

A photo of a lake.  In the foreground on land, two people are carrying a third individual and appear to be preparing to place them in a canoe as two other people watch and prepare to help.  Mt. Hood looms large in the background, with the thick forest that surrounds the lake climbing partway up the mountain before giving way to a light covering of snow.  Some wispy clouds are in the sky.
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 Joe.  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 Joe 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.  Joe 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.  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 Joe.  So Joe 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 Joe 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.  Joe 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, Joe!”  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 Joe 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.

A photo of some campers and counselors, standing in a loose line facing the camera.  They appear to be dancing or cheering.  Though they stand on flat dirt, large trees are only a few feet behind them.
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!

A photo of a medium-sized crowd in front of Fanning Hall at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp.  The building is brown, with a large, sloping green roof.  Nearly every person in the image has their hands raised towards the upper left corner of the photo, as if they have been captured mid-dance.
A photo of two people at the stables; the side of a horse can be seen in the background on the left, and the torsos of two other people are also visible in the background.  Both people in the foreground are wearing name tags made from the cross section of a small round piece of wood.  The left individual’s tag reads “Katie,” and the right individual’s reads “Doni.”  Katie is wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt, a blue helmet, and glasses, and her right arm is outstretched towards the sky while her left is draped over Doni’s shoulder.  Doni is wearing a green tank top, and is leaning over to be closer to Katie’s height.
A photo of campers and counselors in the pool.  Some are playing with floats.  Most are slightly blurred in the background, but in the foreground is an individual resting on a blue float and wearing a red baseball cap pulled low over their eyes.
A photo of three adolescent individuals standing outside in front of some windows and smiling at the camera.  In front of them, some towels and pieces of clothing are hung over a rail.  The tallest person is on the left, is wearing a dark t-shirt with blue printing on the front, and has their right hand raised in a “thumbs up” sign.  The person in the middle is the second-tallest, and is wearing an NFL jersey.  The person on the left is the shortest, and is wearing a red long-sleeved shirt.
A photo of campers and counselors canoeing on a lake, with a lightly snow-covered Mt. Hood rising up behind them on the left.  There are three canoes: a green one on the left, a red one in the center, and dark, possibly blue one on the right.  The canoe-ers are waving at the camera, and one is holding a canoe paddle aloft.  Behind them is a line of thick green forest before the mountain rises into a cloudless blue sky.
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!