MRRI Participant Spotlight: Jim Rigney

On October 5th, 2017, Jim Rigney’s life changed dramatically. He woke up to get ready for work early in the morning, and his arm was completely numb. When he tried to get out of bed, his leg collapsed under him. It, too, was numb, but he hadn’t realized it yet. Hearing the commotion that ensued, Jim’s daughter rushed into the room. As an x-ray technician, she had a clinical background and was able to identify the signs of a stroke. Jim was rushed to the hospital, and he soon began his long journey of recovery.

The stroke occurred on the right side of Jim’s brain, and it primarily affected his left arm and left leg. ”Actually, it was pretty scary,” Jim noted. “I had never been in the hospital before. I said the only time before that I was in the hospital was when I was born.” At the time of the stroke, Jim was 61 years old, relatively healthy, and working 60 hours a week as a quality assurance manager for a pharmaceutical company. For him, there were no red flags or warning signs.

Much of Jim’s rehabilitation at MossRehab focused on learning how to walk again as well as regaining use of his left arm. While at MossRehab, Jim learned about some of the research opportunities available. He got involved right away in a clinical research study for robot-assisted therapy at MossRehab. In this study, Jim spent a few hours each week playing different video games while his left arm was attached to a robotic system designed to help aid his recovery. Jim felt more optimistic after participating in this study because he noticed that he had more control of his arm than he had realized.

Since this first study, Jim has participated in multiple research projects at MRRI, spanning the Cognition and Action Lab directed by Laurel Buxbaum, PsyD, the Cognitive Motor Learning Lab directed by Aaron Wong, PhD, and the Neuroplasticity and Motor Behavior Lab directed by Shailesh Kantak, PhD. Recently, he participated in a study investigating spatial navigation problems in people with stroke. This study involved navigating (both by walking and being pushed in a wheelchair) through real-world environments. The study is being conducted by Drs. Erica Barhorst-Cates, Buxbaum, and Wong to better understand the scope of navigation deficits after stroke and the characteristics of individuals who may experience impaired spatial navigation.

For Jim, participation in research is rewarding and educational. He conducted research after college, so it has been intriguing to see the research process from the other side as a participant. Jim noted that participating in different studies that tested his navigation, movement, memory, and perception has given him insight into his condition and where he may have weaknesses. ”I feel like I’m giving back a little bit,” Jim commented. “These people helped me rebuild my life. […] If I can show them some of the things that I’m going through, and it helps them understand how to treat the next patient coming through [..] why shouldn’t I do that?”

He has also enjoyed the opportunity to meet interesting people, and he has appreciated the time they spent answering his questions and telling him more about the research studies. “They really were very supportive. They wanted me to get a good experience out of it,” he noted.

Jim has had a positive experience participating in research at MRRI, and he has encouraged others to get involved as well. ”The more the researchers know about it and the medical practitioners know about it, the better they can treat us and take care of us, so it’s worth the effort,” Jim said.

Though Jim had to retire from his job in the pharmaceutical industry, he has been making steady progress in his recovery and has been able to return to some of his favorite activities, including hiking and camping with friends. We appreciate the dedication and important contributions of research participants like Jim, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to share his story.

To learn more about opportunities to participate in research at MRRI, you can visit our MRRI Research Registry website.

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