Donors’ funding brings well-known nursing experts to conference

(September 2014) -- At the 2013 Barrow Neuroscience Nursing Symposium, nurses from as far away as Japan and Great Britain learned how their colleagues are innovating therapies for stroke victims, watched brain surgery in 3D and heard from grateful family members about what nursing care had done for their loved ones.

The 2013 symposium was also notable for its first keynote addresses, which were funded by the Barrow Women’s Board and the Warren & Mary Jane Crist Foundation. The former brought Joanne Hickey, PhD, from Houston, Texas.

“Neuroscience nurses around the world know who she is,” said Barrow’s Virginia Prendergast, PhD, the event’s organizer.

Dr. Hickey spoke about the incorporation of the scientific method into nursing from the beginning of her career in the 1960s, when trauma patients rarely survived and most stroke patients were doomed to languish in nursing homes.

“’What can we do to help these patients?’” she wondered. “What I realized was, caring was not enough. It was science that I needed.”

The Crist lecture featured Suzanne Burns, recently retired from the University of Virginia nursing school and medical center, where she directed the nursing clinical research program.

She highlighted nurses who had overseen projects addressing issues fundamental to basic healthcare. One of her research teams, for example, conducted a study that demonstrated how such factors as the patient’s sitting position could affect a blood-pressure reading by as much as 14 points, leading to a potential misdiagnosis of hypertension. The New York Times reported the team’s published findings in 2006.

Audience members donned 3D glasses to watch Barrow Director Dr. Robert Spetzler’s presentation demonstrating neurosurgeries using minimally invasive techniques to access deep tumors. Technological advances, such as a surgical microscope that can precisely pinpoint a mass’s location, mean less manipulation of surrounding tissue.

Speech therapists Jana Thompson and Staci Neustadt demonstrated a new iPad and Droid app they developed that allows patients whose language capability has been obliterated by stroke to communicate. Neuropsychologist George Prigatano, PhD, advised nurses on how to stay safe around potentially violent patients who have lost impulse control as a result of a traumatic brain injury.

Speakers included experts outside the realm of medicine. Commander K. Thor Eells of Colorado Springs, Colo., explained the injuries caused by different caliber bullets and bomb types. He warned trauma nurses to expect more victims of IEDs, like the one used in the Boston Marathon bombing.

“I’ve seen more in the last year than I had in my previous 20 years in law enforcement,” he said.

The conference also featured a more personal perspective provided by Greg Slack, whose wife, Lorna, suffered a seizure and collapsed in their Flagstaff living room two years ago. An aneurysm had burst in her brain. She was air-lifted to Barrow where, over the ensuing weeks, she began experiencing personality changes known as disinhibition.

“I found out my wife can throw tater tots as well as a major leaguer,” Slack recounted, while his wife and their two children sat in the audience.

Such personality changes are signs of a complication called vasospasm, in which the brain’s blood vessels inexplicably narrow, preventing adequate oxygen from reaching the brain.

It was the nurses—constant presences at Lorna’s bedside—who noticed her personality changes and set off the chain of treatment.

“The reason my wife is doing so well today is the nurses caught all of those vasospasms,” Slack said. “The doctors set it in motion, but the nurses made it happen.”


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