Health Watch: Telenutrition for spinal cord injury

Around 300,000 people are living with a spinal cord injury.

Besides paralysis, the condition can also lead to a variety of health concerns, including weight gain, chronic disease, and depression.

However, a new hospital study is helping patients to beat those odds. It all begins with what's on their plate and telenutrition.

Eric Raptosh is proud that he can make his way around the kitchen. It's one of the many changes in his life since becoming recently paralyzed in a small plane crash.

"Broken cervical spine, broken thoracic spine and broken femur and broken ribs. Ninety-nine percent of the things that were in control before your injury are no longer in your control," said Eric.

However, Eric still had control of his diet.

Kazuko Shem, MD, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center said, "Some of our patients live many, many hours away, five hours away for example, so then we couldn't provide in-person nutrition counseling."

Nutrition is key. Studies show the mortality rate for cardiovascular disease is 228% higher in those with a spinal cord injury.

"It's important for quality of life, mental health. It's important for avoiding chronic disease," explained Shelley Wood, MPH, RDN, Clinical Dietician, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

Patients in the study receive an iPad loaded with a photo app. For three months, they keep a food diary and have remote counseling sessions to develop an awareness of their habits.

"I look through all two weeks of their food that they've taken a picture of or their caregiver has, and we work together on optimizing their diet. I had a participant lose close to ninety pounds," said Wood.

Eric lost weight too, but more importantly, his quality of life improved.

"You have a lot of power over the decisions you make over your body and they're very important," Eric said.

Telenutrition has been so helpful for the patients at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center that doctors aim to extend the program once the initial study concludes. However, anyone can create a photo food journal using an app such as 'ate'. It helps create an awareness of daily habits no matter how big or small.

Contributors: Jennifer Winter, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; and Rusty Reed, Videographer.
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