True Patriot Love supports rehabilitation research for all Canadians

Soldiers, veterans and civilians all benefit from UAlberta research breakthroughs.

Bryan Alary - 30 March 2015

(Edmonton) In 2010, a grassroots charity called True Patriot Love Foundation took a major stride toward its goal of improving the lives of Canada's soldiers, veterans and families when it partnered with the University of Alberta to advance military rehabilitation research.

Not only did that initial $200,000 donation allow the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine to launch a new Canadian Military and Veterans' Rehabilitation Research Program, it started a legacy where today True Patriot Love is one of Canada's biggest supporters of military rehabilitation research.

"Six years ago, when we started True Patriot Love, if you told us we would be funding a chair at the University of Alberta and supporting another 35 research universities, we wouldn't have believed it," said Michael Burns, co-founder and vice-chair of True Patriot Love.


True Patriot Love co-founder Michael Burns with the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine's Ibolja Cernak (left) and Elizabeth Taylor (right).

Funding the military chair at the U of A was True Patriot Love's first introduction into the world of research, now one of the organization's main pillars with the immediate health needs of families, physical health and rehabilitation, and mental health and well-being.

The initial funding allowed the faculty to recruit Ibolja Cernak, Canadian Military and Veterans' Chair in Clinical Rehabilitation, and support the work of Jacqueline Hebert, Associate Chair in Clinical Rehabilitation-both internationally renowned leaders in their fields.

"When we look at what UAlberta is doing, they are making a significant impact on the health and well-being of both our soldiers and their families," Burns said.

Cernak became the first research chair in Canada dedicated specifically to the rehabilitation of injured soldiers and veterans and in 2013 her work took her to Afghanistan to study resiliency in Canadian troops, before, during and after deployment.

Cernak is also leading efforts to create the Centre for Traumatic Brain Injury and Military Research at the U of A, which will feature one of Canada's only shock tubes-a nine-metre-long device capable of simulating the effects of explosions soldiers could experience during combat or training exercises, including blasts from improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

"When we look at what UAlberta is doing, they are making a significant impact on the health and well-being of both our soldiers and their families."-Michael Burns, True Patriot Love

In the fall of 2014, True Patriot Love committed another $100,000 to support Hebert's pioneering work in targeted sensory reinnervation surgery-a technique and sensory feedback system that aims to give an amputee a degree of sensation in their prosthetic limb.

The patients that have had the surgery can move a prosthetic limb more naturally. Some subjects in the lab not only feel touch from the bionic limb but can feel its movement as well. Each surgery requires months and often years of follow-up evaluation and rehabilitation but the reactions of each patient when they first gain sensation are nothing short of inspiring and enlightening, she said.

"Their experiences really teach us a lot about how the brain and body recover after limb amputation," Hebert said.

In 2012, Hebert's work won the Major Sir Frederick Banting Award for Military Health Research, one of the country's most prestigious military research awards, sponsored by True Patriot Love. Burns believes Hebert's work will only continue to gain importance and draw attention from other parts of Canada and the globe.

Bionic arm

Sensory reinnervation surgery gives amputees a degree of sensation while controlling a prosthetic limb. (Photo: Curtis Trent)

"You only have to spend time with her and see what she's doing and understand how her work is going to change the lives of men and women who have unfortunately lost a limb in combat. Dr. Hebert's work speaks for itself."

Hebert, who also holds an appointment with the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, runs the Adult Amputee Program at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, and collaborates with researchers and students across campus through her BLINC Lab, said limitations in the human-machine interface are one of the challenges facing advanced prosthetic systems research. New funding will help overcome these challenges through the development and testing of new technology, she said.

"The support from True Patriot Love is going to help develop clinically focused research that will translate discoveries in the lab and the newest technology to immediate patient care."

This story originally appeared in Rehab Impact Report, 2013-14.