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Last Saturday, The Globe and Mail ran a story on Tracy Dort-Kyne, an Ontario mother of three who suffered a spinal cord injury after a cycling accident in September. I was fortunate to meet Tracy this month at Lyndhurst Hospital, where we spoke about her current situation and her future. I was touched by Tracy's story – and impressed by her passion and conviction for a future where she'll continue to be a participating member of society.

Spinal cord injury is one of the world's major unsolved health-care challenges, affecting not only the individuals who live with it but also their families. It requires specialized treatment and long-term care, amounting to billions of dollars annually in Canada. As Tracy's story illustrates, once surgery and rehabilitation are complete, the challenges faced can be relentless – from painful secondary health complications to multiple barriers to reintegration.

Further, as our population ages, tens of thousands of additional spinal cord injuries will occur from falls and illnesses, putting additional pressure on the health-care system's ability to deliver high-quality, cost-effective care. Great progress has been made in recent years, with current programs and initiatives that further aim to reduce the impact of spinal cord injuries on the health-care system, as well as on individuals and families.

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In the 25 years since I wheeled around the world, significant research developments have been made that reduce hospital stays for those with spinal cord injuries through earlier intervention, improved surgical techniques, and advanced medical care. Evidence-based practices for rehabilitation have been written and disseminated by researchers, thereby ensuring the best possible care for spinal cord patients across Canada and around the world. These results are a true testament to what can be accomplished when partnerships are forged and investments are leveraged toward a shared vision for the future.

In 2007, the Rick Hansen Institute was established with the goal of being a catalyst for collaboration among spinal cord patients, researchers, clinicians and stakeholders across Canada and to advance the effectiveness, timeliness and quality of care of people with spinal cord injuries. This model is now being extended to more than 70 sites worldwide – to develop new therapies and reduce the time required for research to be translated into real-life benefits.

From day one, my team at the Rick Hansen Foundation has been dedicated to accelerating research for a cure for paralysis after a spinal cord injury, and creating an environment where best practices and new standards of accessibility can be developed and shared. In May of 2012, 2,500 international leaders and influencers will meet in Vancouver at the Interdependence 2012 Global Conference and Exposition to set the agenda for advancing spinal cord research and creating communities that are accessible to all.

Our efforts must be focused, visionary and collaborative to support the impact of the world's shift in population age and subsequent rise in disability. I truly believe we're on the threshold of an exponential expansion of the boundaries of our knowledge. As I look to the future, I see a world where those newly injured as a result of spinal cord injuries walk away and the billion people on Earth living with various types of disabilities have equal opportunity to participate in, and contribute to, all aspects of their communities.

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