April 1, 2004 • Volume 12 Number 14

BC nursing doctoral student Susan Sheehy works with Jack Shadduck, who will be doing a simulated marathon to help support a pilot program directed by Sheehy for persons with spinal cord injuries.

Helping 'The First Five' Last

By Kathleen Sullivan
Staff Writer

A pilot project directed by a Boston College graduate student that assists persons with spinal cord injuries will be in the spotlight during Boston Marathon season, thanks to a young man who is one of the program's success stories.

Jack Shadduck, a 15-year-old honor student at Braintree High School who is paralyzed from the neck down, will bicycle 26.2 miles, the official length of a marathon, on a specially adapted stationary bike during April 14 and 15 at the Massachusetts Hospital School.

But Shadduck's personal marathon has a bigger purpose: He is promoting and raising funds for The First Five project, sponsored by The Massachusetts Hospital School and the New England Spinal Cord Initiative. Directed by Connell School of Nursing doctoral student Susan Sheehy '69, a nurse researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, First Five uses a focused, high-intensity exercise program to boost the health, functional improvement and complication reduction for adolescents and adults with spinal cord injuries.

In May of 2002, Shadduck was left paralyzed by transverse myelitis, a rare inflammation of the spinal column, unable even to breathe without the support of a ventilator. Like other victims of extreme paralysis, he was at risk from many other health problems, ranging from osteoporosis to infections, resulting in repeated hospitalizations.

Last September, Shadduck and four other spinal cord patients began participating in First Five. They spend three evenings a week in an exercise program with coaching and supervision from an athletic trainer and a specialty nurse. The program includes riding a specially adapted exercise bike that uses electrodes placed on the rider's legs and buttocks to contract their muscles, and enable them to work out.

Now, a little more than six months later, Shadduck is able to breathe without a ventilator for as long as five consecutive days, can lift his left arm, and move several of his toes. In addition, Shadduck can move both his arms back and forth enough to soon be able to use a joystick to steer his wheelchair, giving him much more control than using his mouth as he does now with a sip-and-puff device.

As Shadduck's daily mileage on the stationary bike gradually increased, Sheehy and her colleagues put up a map of the Boston Marathon route to help him gauge the equivalent distance he had traveled during his session. Shadduck and his father eventually hit upon the idea of his completing a marathon to benefit The First Five.

"We are hoping to raise enough money through various efforts to expand the program to many more spinal cord injured individuals," said Sheehy, "and to do that, we need funds to hire more staff and purchase additional equipment. So Jack wants to do his part to help bring others into the program.

"Jack is a great kid, very funny and very smart, and he's determined to succeed. The other day he said, 'In September I was a quadriplegic. Now I am a recovering quadriplegic. Hopefully, someday I will be a recovered paraplegic."

For more information or to make a pledge, contact Susan Sheehy at (617)754-2332 or visit Web sites for the Northeast Spinal Cord Initiative or Travis Roy Foundation.

-Kathleen Sullivan

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