MetroHealth has long been known as one of the best rehab centers for spinal cord injuries. As part of the Cleveland FES Center the researchers, engineers and clinicians are on the cutting edge of research.
But for dozens of spinal cord patients who don't live in Northeast Ohio, the dream of accessing that research is often logistically out of reach. Until now.
Kevin Kilgore, Ph.D. is a MetroHealth biomedical engineer and often spent hours walking around the neighborhood by Metro's Old Brooklyn campus looking for a house that could be renovated for spinal cord patients.
"I can build a complicated device that goes inside the body but I can't get someone from the airport to here because we can't get transportation or we can't get a caregiver," Dr. Kilgore said.
Or because there are no nearby hotels that are reasonably priced and have total accessibility for someone who is quadriplegic.
Maria Sutter understands the dilemma. She became paralyzed after a bike accident in 2004. In 2007 she had an experimental device implanted at Metro that stimulated the muscles in her hand and returned some function. From surgery, to learning how to use the device to going home took three months.
Maria lives in Medina so her transportation was a little easier. But spending all that time in a hospital setting mentally set her back.
When MetroHealth CEO, Akram Boutros announced a "Shark Tank" like competition among employees to come up with innovative ideas, Dr. Kilgore submitted his.
One of the judges of the competition was Miguel Zubizarreta, a Hyland Software executive who was the original architect of Hyland's OnBase software, an enterprise content management system.
When Zubizarreta heard Kilgore's idea, he saw more than just a way to help spinal cord patients. His business mind captured a way to solidify Cleveland's place on the Biomedical map.
"This is more than just about the people who we will help, it's about the jobs that will be created in Cleveland it's about the industry that will be created if we become a center of excellence for accident rehabilitation," Zubizarreta said.
Dr. Kilgore's idea was one of three that won the competition, all received $100,000 but that wasn't enough to buy and renovate a house for Dr. Kilgore's purpose.
That's when Zubizarreta pulled out his checkbook and wrote a check for $500,000.
Not long afterward, the software entrepreneur realized even that wasn't enough, not to mention the time it would take to build a public space.
So Zubizarreta bought property next to Metro's Old Brooklyn campus. Within wheelchair distance to the door patients would need to enter for treatment.
He hired the contractors, architects and broke ground a month ago, he expects doors to open in February. The cost is nearly three times what he originally donated, but will hand the keys to the finished product over to Metro.
The original plan kept growing and now includes five suites for both patients and their caregivers. Two apartment suites for innkeepers to be hired. The entire design is not only wheelchair accessible, but also designed to help patients "practice" their new skills with the implant.
Sutter is excited to see it because she's on the list to get another experimental implant that will help her control torso movement. Even though she lives in Medina, she'd like to stay in the house for the duration of her implant process. She calls it a living lab and is looking forward to meeting and helping other spinal cord patients from across the country go through the treatment.
"The more people involved, the more the research grows, the faster the research grows, the more things I can utilize down the road," Maria said.