Beyond Saving a Life: Public Hospitals Help Local Physician Recover from Spinal Cord Injury

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Physician trained and working at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center now a patient

Santa Clara County, CA – On November 15, 2017, Matthew Wetschler, MD, was surfing at Ocean Beach in San Francisco when he was pushed down by a wave, breaking his neck. Matthew Wetschler, MD, had board and body-surfed the waters and strong currents off San Francisco’s Ocean Beach for years. But he wasn’t ready for a wave that slammed his body, head first, into a shallow section of the ocean floor.   Wetschler, found floating face down, was pulled from the ocean without a pulse. As part of a series of fortunate circumstances, two people on the beach that day had medical training. One was a physician, and they performed CPR and were able to revive him.   Transported to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (ZSFG) the good fortune continued. Wetschler became the first person in the country to benefit from newly-created guidelines for treating individuals with a traumatic spinal cord injury. These innovative protocols were developed at ZSFG by a team that included Geoffrey Manley, MD, PhD, Chief of Neurosurgery. The new guidelines include advanced MRI imaging and neuromonitoring with a focus on maintaining sufficient blood flow within the spinal cord.   “This case speaks to the outstanding clinical care at ZSFG and how we are leveraging our research to pioneer new tools and treatments for spinal cord injury,” said Manley.   Following emergency surgery and a short stay at ZSFG, Dr. Wetschler began rehabilitation at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (SCVMC). It was a homecoming of sorts. Several months before his injury, Wetschler had chosen to work part time at SCVMC after completing emergency medicine residency at Stanford.   Once in SCVMC’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Unit, Wetschler began receiving inpatient therapy. Another fortunate circumstance; the Rehabilitation Center has moved into the new Sobrato Pavilion equipped with the latest innovations and medical technologies to support patients on their road to recovery.   With expert care and innovative technologies, Wetschler’s pace of recovery has been uncharacteristically rapid; he has regained function over days that often takes weeks or months. One month from the day of his accident, which caused an injury to his spinal cord and paralysis, he celebrated taking his first steps.   “At this point, Matthew’s recovery is moving quickly. Since beginning rehabilitation, we’ve seen him make functional improvements over the course of days instead of the usual months,” said James Crew, MD, Chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at SCVMC. “While recovery after a spinal cord injury is variable, we are very pleased to see the trajectory of Matthew’s progress.”   Wetschler has been at SCVMC since Thanksgiving and will remain in the hospital through the holidays. He is also an artist chronicling his journey as a patient, currently with the help of an SCVMC art therapist. Along with a strong personal motivation to get back to his life and work – as both a physician and an artist – Wetschler attributes his uncharacteristic pace to a number of factors.   “The initial emergency care, experienced and trained staff, and the new treatment protocols at ZSFG were critical,” commented Matthew Wetschler, MD. “Then I transfer to this Rehabilitation Center, with access to cutting-edge rehab technology and an exceptionally skilled and committed team of physicians, nurses and therapists who specialize in spinal cord and brain injury. All of this has made a difference in my recovery.”   The Rehabilitation Center at SCVMC provides the latest in adaptive and assistive technologies for patients with spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries. These devices give clinicians new therapy options, and new hope to patients as they rebuild their lives. Advanced technologies include: the Zero G® gait and balance system featuring an overhead track for practicing a wide range of walking and balance-related activities; the Zero G lite, a treadmill-based body-weight supported technology; and Ekso Bionics® wearable, robotic exoskeleton which makes it possible for people with certain levels of spinal cord injury to literally get back on their feet. In addition, the new aquatic therapy pool includes an underwater treadmill.   Wetschler is quick to acknowledge that this convergence of medical professionals, specialized programs and technology arrived at the right time for him and anyone who currently experiences a spinal cord injury.   “The most heartening experience of my injury has been the rising support of my surrounding community,” said Matthew Wetschler, MD. “First, my friends and family, and, second, two institutions that provide world class care, both of which have contributed significantly to my recovery.”  

News Conference and Media Availability
Friday, December 22, 2018 at 10 am

Instructions: Parking will be available on a first come basis in front of the Sobrato Pavilion. Additional parking will be reserved on the first floor of the 4-story Visitor Parking Garage.   Meet in the main lobby of the Sobrato Pavilion. Following the news conference, Dr. Wetschler will go to the ZeroG balance system at part of his therapy, and the news media is welcome to photograph/film the session and get additional comments during the this time.