November 9, 2023
Spinal-injury patient Cindy Bourassa loves her creative time with Michelle Haley, a recreation therapist in Tertiary Neurorehabilitation at the Foothills Medical Centre. Photo by Leah Hennel.
Patient Cindy Bourassa added glitter and gemstones when she assembled and customized this 3D-printed model of her spine “My spine is my most favourite (work of art). I learned more about what happened to me — and accepted what happened to me. (My recreation therapist) Michelle (Haley) was great, teaching me the different parts and putting it together.” Photo by Leah Hennel.
Story by Janine Poersch | Photos by Leah Hennel
CALGARY — In the wake of a life-altering car accident that left her paralyzed, Cindy Bourassa is relearning how to do everyday tasks in a wheelchair. The healing power of art is helping her ease back into the community.
“Art has and always been part of my world,” says Bourassa, injured in May 2023. “I’m not the best, but it takes my mind off of the harder stuff and puts a smile back on my face.”
Leisure activities not only help patients like Bourassa regain function, but they also help them to adapt to a new lifestyle, says Michelle Haley, a recreation therapist in Tertiary Neurorehabilitation at the Foothills Medical Centre.
“Depending on the injury, we can use different activities to enhance someone’s rehabilitation,” she says. “We’ve got tabletop games, video games, woodworking, art-based interventions and all kinds of technology, to name a few.”
One art-based intervention creates 3D-printed spines with a goal of helping patients better understand their injury, address how they perceive it and promote their psychological well-being. It involves printing spine vertebrae to recreate the specific region of the patient’s spinal cord affected by injury or surgery. In Bourassa’s instance, the model depicts a T9-L1 posterior instrumented fusion.
Patients learn more about their injury as they assemble and customize their 3D-printed spine alongside their recreation therapist. The grant-funded spine model project is a new intervention being offered in Tertiary Neurorehabilitation at the Foothills Medical Centre.
The project was brought to life by recreation therapist Tasha Saliken alongside a team of clinicians. University of Calgary researchers are evaluating the project to better understand patient outcomes. The results will inform decisions to expand the one-of-a-kind intervention to more patients.
Haley, who’s been working with Bourassa since day one, says it’s been inspiring to watch her grow.
“Now I see in her every day, and in the dialogue that we have with each other, that’s she’s more confident — and she does feel that she can do this. I’m confident she’ll have a fulfilling life after this type of injury.”
“My spine is my most favourite (work of art),” says Bourassa. “I learned more about what happened to me — and accepted what happened to me. Michelle was great, teaching me the different parts and putting it together.”
Haley adds: “It was a pleasure to work with Cindy through the process. She developed an awareness of her injury while adding her own personal touch to it.”
Swathed in pink hues and sparkling with glitter and gemstones, Bourassa’s 3D-printed spine stands as a beautiful symbol of the confidence she’s rediscovered in herself.
“You’ve got to take the best of everything,” says Bourassa. “You have a choice to either be happy or miserable. Pick happy and you’ll get through it much easier.”
Allied Health Week (Nov. 6-10) celebrates the many disciplines that make up allied health, including recreation therapists, and the innovative, patient-centric approaches they take to help Albertans get back to their everyday.