UBCO meeting EPIC challenge with people living with spinal-cord injury

West Kelowna’s Anand Kannan works out with UBC Okanagan staff during a research project.

Ever since Anand Kannan’s 2008 ATV accident left him a paraplegic, the West Kelowna man has learned to appreciate any and all victories in his mission to stay healthy. 

For instance, by participating in research studies at UBC Okanagan he was exposed to exercise equipment and regimens specifically tailored to the spinal-cord injury (SCI) community—something not readily available otherwise. 

“I was at UBCO using a press machine, pulling down on the weight,” Kannan says. “But then I realized the machine also worked in reverse—I could press straight above my head. For someone in a wheelchair, just being able to use that simple motion without worrying about falling backward was such a gift.” 

That’s one reason why Kannan is advocating for others in the SCI community to embrace the opportunities at UBCO in Kelowna by signing up for a research project. UBCO’s Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis is hoping to recruit as many as 60 participants for a project called “Exercise guidelines and Promotion and Implementation in Chronic Spinal Cord Injury” – or EPIC SCI. 

“This is an opportunity for adults with an SCI to help those in their same situation,” Dr. Martin Ginis says. “This isn’t about doing research so the results can sit on a library shelf. We are genuinely driven to do research that can improve people’s lives. But we need study participants. Even if you are unsure, please contact our offices and we will answer any and all questions.”  

Participants are compensated for visits to the UBCO lab and receive a gift card upon completion of the study. 

Study participants are also asked to complete an online or phone questionnaire and attend three in-person visits to UBC Okanagan—at entry into the study and again at three and six months. 

During the visits, participants are asked to undergo a fitness test, a brief pain sensation test and provide a blood sample. 

Participants are randomly divided into two groups. One group begins a personalized exercise program and participates in weekly Zoom or phone coaching sessions for six months. The other group waits for six months and then receives a personalized exercise program and weekly Zoom/phone coaching sessions for six months. 

“We are doing our best to remove any barriers to participation,” says Dr. Martin Ginis, director of the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management. “We see everyone benefitting. Participants get personalized health prescriptions, access to adapted workout equipment, and the knowledge they are providing vital information for our research.” 

Anyone who wants to participate must be 18 or older, experience chronic pain and have been diagnosed with a spinal cord injury more than a year ago at C3 or below. Further, you must be doing less than 40 minutes of moderate aerobic exercises per week and fewer than two days per week of strengthening exercises. 

West Kelowna’s Kannan has already completed the program, and wants everyone in the SCI community in the Central Okanagan to know how much of a benefit it can be. 

“I’d say, if you’re presented with the opportunity, you need to take it,” he says. “Having people around makes it so much more worthwhile. You keep each other motivated, and it makes you feel connected to those who understand you. It’s just so much better working out with friends.” 

If you, or someone you know, wants to volunteer, email kenedy.olsen@ubc.ca or call 236-970-6226 with any questions.