Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?
I grew up in Markham, Ontario and did my undergraduate studies at Western University [Honours BSc (physiology), London, ON] and McMaster University [BHSc (PT), Hamilton, ON]. I had participated in an underserviced areas project while at McMaster which took me to Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, ON, for 6 months and this experience consolidated in me a love for the North. I subsequently moved to Timmins, ON, where I worked as a physiotherapist at Timmins & District Hospital for 8 years. I then moved to Ottawa, where I worked at a private physiotherapy clinic before beginning my postgraduate studies at Queens (MSc and PhD in Rehabilitation Science, Kingston, ON). I worked clinically as a physiotherapist until summer 2014.
What compelled you to pursue stroke research?
I was a summer student for two summers while at Western University. The first year I did basic science research in neuroscience; it was then that I discovered a passion for research. One of my dreams was to have a career in research someday.
When I worked at the hospital as a PT, I worked with stroke patients in acute care, inpatient rehabilitation and outpatient rehabilitation. I was fascinated by the effects of stroke on the brain and loved seeing the recovery that rehabilitation could facilitate. I was curious to learn more and when the opportunity came up to do stroke research I jumped at it! Over the past 15 years there have been so many exciting advances in stroke and stroke recovery, and I am excited to be involved.
What is the focus of your research?
I am working on a Heart & Stroke Foundation-funded randomized control study, “Does virtual reality exercise improve sitting balance ability and function after stroke?” My supervisors are Drs. Hillel Finestone, Heidi Sveistrup and Martin Bilodeau. We are training 78 stroke rehabilitation inpatients in virtual reality (VR) for 30-45 minutes for 10-12 sessions. We use a non-immersive VR system that uses a Kinect camera to track the participants’ movements and allow them to control an object or avatar in a game presented on a TV screen. The experimental group plays games that work on sitting balance and reaching, while the control group plays games that do not challenge sitting balance at all. We will investigate whether those in the experimental group improve their sitting balance and function (i.e. reaching) more than those in the control group.
At what stage are you in your research, and what are your current future plans?
I am in the 3rd year of a 3-year postdoctoral fellowship. We have also just received funding (hopefully for 2 years) to take our VR program into the community. We will introduce patients to VR while they are in inpatient rehabilitation and then install a system in their home for the first six weeks after discharge. After my postdoctoral fellowship I hope to obtain a junior faculty position in rehabilitation science or a related discipline, with a focus on stroke rehabilitation research. I wish to continue to investigate the benefits that VR can provide for stroke recovery.
How do you and others benefit from being part of the National Trainee Association?
The National Trainee Association has been a wonderful resource to me. I attended the SPiN workshop in June 2014, just before beginning my postdoctoral fellowship. It brought me up-to-date on current research (basic and clinical) in stroke, and got me excited about working in this area. I also met many similarly-minded students and postdocs; it was a great forum for sharing. A year later the CPSR provided me with a postdoctoral fellowship, which enabled me to continue to work on my research, while indirectly supporting the project itself. The other programs of the NTA, like the mentorship and visiting scholar programs, are also important and exciting. The NTA brings together researchers at the beginning of their careers, to create career-long collaborations and work together towards a common goal. One of my interests is to increase communication between NTA members living in the same city, to enhance collaboration at a local level.
What other interests do you have?
I am married, with two very busy little boys (ages 9 and 7). I run, bike (mostly commuting, not quite year-round) and do weights and yoga to stay in shape. In the summer I love going to the cottage and camping. In the winter my passion is Nordic skiing. I also do a variety of volunteer work and love to cook and bake. Sleep is overrated!