02 Nov 2019

Fellow aims to help others through WORLDiscoveries’ Medical Innovation Fellowship Program

At an age when many are deciding what to do with their lives, a then-20-year-old Wagner Souza found himself considering the end of his.

“When I was in my journalism program, I got sick. I got deadly sick,” said Souza, now 36 and enrolled in the Western Medical Innovation Fellowship Program at WORLDiscoveries in partnership with Western’s BrainsCAN. “All of my doctors were very concerned that I might not make it.”

Diagnosed with two strong auto-immune disorders presenting leukemia-like symptoms, Souza required 13 pills a day to keep him alive from 2004-06. Then, a German company developed an immunomodulatory and offered him hope.

“I was dying until my doctor said, ‘there’s a new drug, it’s one shot, you’ll take it every two weeks.’ It made a huge difference.”

Souza’s experience left him motivated to help other patients dealing with pain, to give them control over their illness in an effort to help them get better. Today, he is fulfilling that desire as a Western Medical Innovation Fellow.

“I promised myself if I ever survived, I would help people through everything I learned,” said Souza. “I would use [my experience as a patient] to my advantage and the advantage of those who need my help.”

As he healed, he completed a physical therapy program at The Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil. In that program, he developed a passion for technology. He started using virtual reality to help stroke patients with balance control. What he found was over a month of therapy, patients progressed dramatically.

“For people who cannot walk independently, if they see themselves walking in a virtual reality field they will develop an engagement, an excitement not commonly seen in neurorehabilitation – this is going to change things for them,” he said. “I wanted people to feel excited and optimistic about therapy.”

After graduating with a master’s degree in neurorehabilitation, Wagner started his PhD in the Neuroscience Integrated Program at McGill University. It was during his last year when he learned about the Medical Innovation Fellowship Program at Western.

This article appeared on Western BrainsCAN’s website.

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