Volunteers helping push research forward

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Volunteers have always played an instrumental role at Holland Bloorview, helping to create a world of possibility for kids with disability in our community. Volunteers take part in many of our client programs, helping kids with special needs participate in activities to the best of their ability. Volunteers can also be placed in the on-site Bloorview School or provide support on research initiatives in our Bloorview Research Institute.

One such research initiative comes from our Concussion Research Centre. Their focus is to educate children and families about concussion and gather baseline information to help inform the under-researched area of pediatric concussion.

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Tracy Fabri, a fourth year neuropsychology student at York University, has been helping make this research possible, by volunteering her time at our research and education Concussion & You exhibit within the Ontario Science Centre’s BRAIN: The Inside Story exhibition.

Tracy has been volunteering with Holland Bloorview since her first year of university when she had the opportunity to job shadow one of our clinical neuropsychologist, Dr. Mary Stewart.

Tracy tells us that, “Dr. Stewart sparked my interest in neuropsychology. During my placement I was able to shadow clinical rounds and observe standardized testing. The placement with her influenced my subsequent years at York to focus my studies on neuropsychology, specifically working with the pediatric population with acquired and traumatic brain injuries. Neuropsychology has since become my passion and to this day I keep in contact with Dr. Stewart. If I ever need guidance, have a question or need anything she is the one I go to and she’s more than happy to help every time.”

In Tracy’s current volunteer role with the Concussion Research Centre at the Ontario Science Centre Research Live! ‘Concussion & You’ exhibit, she takes an interactive approach to research, helps acquire data and educates visitors to the exhibit. Participants of the exhibit partake in any or all of the three stations: strength station – to determine their maximum hand grip strength; art station – to understand a child’s perspective on concussions they are asked to write or draw what concussion means to them; dual-task station – to test attention and balance, using the 3D NeuroTracker software and the BioSway balance systems. As a volunteer, Tracy has full responsibility to manage this dual-task station.

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The goal of this research is to collect normative data on children, ages 5-19 years old, that can be used to inform future research and clinical application related to concussion. Researchers hope to do the same tests on children after a concussion to see if there is a deficit in their performance on certain tasks compared to the norms. Thus far the research has collected data from a total of 447 kids every Sunday at the Ontario Science Centre since November 2014.

Mathieu Ranger, Ontario Science Centre Research Live! Researcher and Programmer explains, “Research Live! is a great opportunity for research groups to collect larger quantities of data from a very diverse population of visitors at the Ontario Science Centre. At the same time, the program gives visitors of all ages the ability to take part in scientific discovery and to meet real researchers.”

Clinician scientist, Dr. Nick Reed, with the Bloorview Research Institute tell us that, “Volunteers do invaluable work; they help and empower us to push research forward by supporting innovative projects that may have limited resources. Thanks to volunteers like Tracy we can take advantage of opportunities like the Ontario Science Centre’s Research Live! program. In turn, we want to help volunteers reach their goals and perhaps spark their interests in pursuing a career in research or concussion.”

“Our volunteering environment is collaborative; researchers and volunteers are seen as equal partners and we try to give our volunteers the opportunities that align with their goals. We work together to create an open team environment, everyone is professional and enthusiastic about their work. In between sessions we ask for feedback and suggestions on how we can improve and iterate our practices,” tells Bloorview Research Institute, research assistant Katherine Wilson.

With graduation coming up, Tracy is looking to apply to graduate schools for clinical psychology and clinical neuropsychology. Tracy says, “Holland Bloorview is one-of-a-kind. When I came back to interview for the Bloorview Research Institute they remembered me as soon as I walked through the door, and every time I go in they are incredibly warm. It’s moments like that that really make you feel welcome, like you’re really making a meaningful contribution to the organization and I feel privileged to be able to learn and grow with the hospital.”

Going forward Tracy will continue to volunteer with the Concussion Research Centre to analyze the data collected from the Ontario Science Centre’s Research Live! ‘Concussion & You’ exhibit.