Research drives progress. What are the preconditions for top performances in modern rehabilitation?

Werner Witschi is taking part in a project run by ETH Zurich and is testing an innovative walking robot on Lucerne’s local Pilatus mountain. The Swiss Paraplegic Centre is supporting the development project in the form of a cooperative partnership.

The story of Werner Witschi

«I planned and built photovoltaic systems. This work meant that I also had to go up onto roofs. This is when a careless step backwards resulted in a fall. I fell almost six metres. I was lucky and survived. This attitude places me in a good position to accept the situation with my paralysis. I never lost my joie de vivre.

After a turning point of this kind, it’s important that there’s hope. It’s important to formulate this hope carefully. Does it make sense to have hope in something that isn't realistic? Does it make sense to hope that you’ll be able to walk again? I know that at the moment there’s no surgical help available for my complete paralysis. Despite initial successes, research is still a long way from being able to turn somebody with a spinal cord injury into a fully able-bodied person.

Hoping for something unrealistic is simply a waste of energy. My hope is based on aids that allow me to walk, in part, like an able-bodied person. There are currently numerous ongoing research projects around the world and I count myself lucky to be part of one of these projects.»

«Being able to stand up again to hug my wife felt overwhelming.»
Werner Witschi, paraplegia since 2013

Overview stories Beacons of Hope
  • Werner Witschi is working on a roof without a safety harness. He loses his footing and falls almost six metres. Three years after the fall, he returns to the accident site in his wheelchair. What is going through the head of the planner of photovoltaic systems when he meets the people who saw the accident happen? How did you experience the accident?

    Source: Suva

  • A Rega helicopter flies Werner Witschi to hospital with a broken back. His sister's best friend answers the Rega call announcing the arrival of the patient. What is it like for her when she finds out who is about to be admitted?

    Source: Suva

  • Werner Witschi's wife and two daughters are his main support on the long path back to life. How do you remember this difficult and significant time? Was the family able to take anything positive from it?

    Source: Suva

  • Werner Witschi's long path back to life starts with rehabilitation. His physiotherapist supports him every day for nine months. What kind of relationship develops through this closeness? And what does this relationship mean for the rehabilitation process?

    Source: Suva 

  • Werner Witschi campaigns for increased safety on roofs. He runs training sessions for roofers. To this end, he analyses his accident with a Suva expert. Why did it happen? What could have prevented it?

    Source: Suva

  • Werner Witschi makes roofers aware of the dangers associated with their work. His accident could already have happened to any one of them. How do they react to his story? And how has Werner Witschi managed to stand on his own two feet again despite his spinal cord injury.

    Source: Suva

Training functions

Rehabilitation only achieves top performances if the dimensions of health integrity and disability are systematically taken into account for every patient. To achieve this, rehabilitation specialists from various areas of expertise link their knowledge into an individually designed rehabilitation concept. Physiotherapist Sebastian Lux provides patients in the Swiss Paraplegic Centre with exoskeleton training. He tells us about his experiences.

Hope of new discoveries

Maybe the solution lies within us. Maybe our own nerve cells will allow us to heal at some point. Maybe our neurons could allow limbs to regrow – as is the case for amphibians – or even allow severed spines to heal. Science is increasingly getting to know the “human miracle”, discovering new things and giving us hope.

Hope in science and research provides great support for not giving up: maybe people with a spinal cord injury will be able to walk again one day. Science and research drive all human progress. Also in the field of medicine. Hope of healing is kept alive through regular scientific publications that report on promising therapies.

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About the metal sculpture: The sculpture by metal artist Joe Meyer represents a multipolar nerve cell with all its details. He links the following thoughts to it:

«Nature creates extraordinary things and science is continuously making incredible discoveries and progress. This is why hope is not only allowed but also desired.»

We support people with spinal cord in-juries. Throughout their lives.

  • Very few people are aware of the fact that a spinal cord injury means much more than being in a wheelchair. It results in momentous turning points in the life of people with a spinal cord injury. The loss of mobility, no longer being able to walk, maybe only having limited use of your arms are one aspect of it. The loss of bladder and bowel functions, sexual functions, sensory functions and other things are another.

  • Robotics
    Robots that get paralysed muscles moving, walking sticks that replace the wheelchair: assistive technologies are gaining ground and there are great expectations of revolutionary discoveries. The objective is for technology to provide optimal support for people with a disability in order to make their lives easier. Various robotic devices are used at the Swiss Paraplegic Centre.

    Electrical stimulation
    Functional electrical stimulation (FES) was introduced as a treatment method at the Swiss Paraplegic Centre in 1992. It has since been an integral component in the rehabilitation of inpatients and outpatients. FES is a treatment method that uses electrical impulses rather than nerve impulses to work on muscles.

  • During the extension and modernisation of the clinic from 2015 to 2019, the biotope was also optimised. This natural site fits into the surroundings beautifully and invites patients, relatives, members of staff and visitors to observe fauna and flora.

    The biotope, which is located between the hospital building and the Ring of Life landmark, can be seen from the clinic's Restaurant Centro and from the patient rooms. The water area is 900 m2 and, at a depth of at most 150 cm, holds about 500,000 litres of water. The biotope is only fed by precipitation. This results in natural water level fluctuations.

    The oasis offers living space and breeding opportunities for various animals: frogs, dragon flies, water snails, newts and birds. The flora in and around the biotope is also diverse: reeds, water lilies, marsh spurges, bulrushes, irises, willows, back alders, and sedges, surrounded by untouched flowering meadows.

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