Technology Empowers VMC Rehabilitation Patients

Imagine that you wake up one day in a hospital after a serious accident and are told that you are paralyzed. How do you communicate with the outside world? What do you do when you need to write someone an e-mail or access the Internet? Luckily, patients who are admitted to VMC’s rehab center have an answer: the Technology Access Program (TAP), championed by the VMC Foundation’s own Debbie Burdsall.

An Occupational Therapist with 22 years of experience, Debbie understands her patients and their shifting needs. “The whole point of rehab is to become as independent as possible and to get back to life,” Debbie explains. “Technology is now a part of almost everyone’s life, and part of getting back to life today is resuming paying your bills, talking to your friends online, and emailing.”

Because technology is so pervasive, allowing rehab patients access early on is empowering. “It is the connectivity to the outside world and what happens as a result of that that is the most compelling part of TAP,” Debbie explains. “Because of this program, patients are now looking online and seeing what their options are for bath equipment, wheelchairs, etc. They are doing price comparisons and taking a much more active role in making decisions early on. I think that translates into a better outcome when they go home.”

Another one of TAP’s strengths lies in its ability to facilitate a patient’s interaction with their life and loved ones; to communicate with a world that doesn’t easily accommodate their life changing injuries. Using technology to communicate is such a creature comfort these days, checking e-mails and chatting online serves to reduce stress levels and improve the mood of patients, all elements that help the healing process.

While outcomes vary for each patient, the stories of recovery Debbie catalogs really solidify TAP’s importance. Take the young girl who wasn’t expected to live when she came in as an example. Her diagnoses was dire, but she began showing lightning fast progress when she was re-connected with the poetry she had written on her MySpace page after being loaned one of TAP’s laptops. At the time she was re-introduced to the Internet, she could only move her eyes. But because of the Technology Access Program’s ability to match technology assistance to a patient’s need (i.e. voice recognition, eye tracking software, and customized operating system) her recovery occurred that much faster. Today she is talking and beginning to walk; two skills doctors never thought she would accomplish on her own.

And the stories go on and on, one after the other highlighting a different strength of the Technology Access Program. Each laptop that patient’s use, every head mouse and customized operating system are purchased through the generous donation of community members and corporations. Currently, Debbie has 14 laptops to loan out to patients during their stay. Those laptops are in constant use and require maintenance from wear and tear. It’s hard for Debbie to keep up with the demand, so what does her ideal world look like? “Well,” she thinks out loud, “More laptops for patients to use while they are here, and I really wish I was able to send a laptop home with the patients who can’t afford to buy one of their own!” A noble goal for a very special program.

To learn how you can contribute to this program, please contact Michael Elliott at 408-885-5299.