Dr. Isaac Hernandez Jimenez, MDAccording to the World Health Organization, every year, between 250,000 and 500,000 people around the world suffer a spinal cord injury (SCI) resulting in disability. Most cases have preventable causes—automobile accidents, falls or violence. Despite advances in rehabilitation medicine’s understanding of the pathophysiology of SCI and the management of its acute and chronic complications, functional outcomes in Latin America are disproportionately variable between countries, with worse outcomes in the countries with fewer resources. As chair of the American Spinal Cord Injury Association’s (ASIA) 20-member Americas Committee, Isaac Hernandez Jimenez, MD, associate professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston and an affiliated physician in the Spinal Cord Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann, is helping to shape the committee’s strategic focus on improving care in Latin America.

“Spinal cord injury is a very challenging condition that requires extensive education of physicians and patients, financial support and resources for long-term medical care,” Dr. Hernandez Jimenez says. “ASIA defines itself as the premier association for SCI in the Americas, but in the past we’ve focused for the most part on the United States and Canada. Recently, we began focusing more attention on Mexico, Central America and South America.”

When the Americas Committee first started looking farther south, they were told that there was little interest in SCI rehabilitation education in Latin America. “We refused to believe that,” he says. “Because a spinal cord injury subspecialty doesn’t exist in Latin America, people with SCI are served by general rehabilitation physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, nurses and primary care physicians. Our goal is to offer educational opportunities for these Latin American rehabilitation providers who care for patients with acute and chronic SCI. We’re also working to enhance cooperation between the various disability organizations to share knowledge and training in ways that will improve the care of these patients.”

Last September, the Americas Committee created an online research methodology course in Spanish, to which 300 people applied to attend. “We selected the top 13 who had ongoing research projects and committed to helping them carry them out,” Dr. Hernandez Jimenez says. “Being able to connect with people in Latin America virtually has been a godsend because of the sheer size of our two continents. Today, we have an Americas subcommittee located across Latin America, with two liaisons in Argentina who connect the groups. At any given time, we’re communicating directly with 200 to 400 physicians, therapists, nurses and residents in various working groups.”

Americas Committee members also presented on various topics at the 2022 meeting of the Asociación Médica Latinoamerica de Rehabilitación (AMLAR) held Oct. 28 through Nov. 1 in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Dr. Hernandez Jimenez was among eight presenters from the committee.

“We’re working with our counterparts in Latin America to structure the educational process in ways that will best benefit them,” he says. “All talks are available on the ASIA YouTube channel, either in Spanish or with Spanish subtitles. Some are available with Portuguese subtitles. We’re working toward high-yield education and interaction. We want clinicians to be able to talk with us today and put the knowledge they gain to work to fine-tune care for their patients tomorrow. We have an active core of members, but we can always use more help. We’re looking for people from across the clinical rehabilitation spectrum—physicians, therapists and nurses—especially those who can speak Spanish or Portuguese.”

Clinicians who are interested in joining the committee, or who have a special interest in helping SCI patients in Latin America, may email americas@asia-spinalinjury.org for more information.

Spring 2023 Edition
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For the 34th consecutive year, TIRR Memorial Hermann is recognized as the best rehabilitation hospital in Texas and No. 4 in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report's "Best Rehabilitation Hospitals" in America.

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