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Meet the UK’s Catastrophic Injury Team of the Year

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Chris Stewart - head of the serious injury department at Digby Brown

As winner of the Catastrophic Injury Team of the Year at the most recent Personal Injury Awards, law firm Digby Brown writes for NR Times to highlight its track record in serious injury work and commitment to supporting brain and spinal cord injury survivors

To many the name may not be familiar.

The firm, after all, operates exclusively in Scotland. But their serious injury department, which specialises in helping brain and spinal cord injury, defeated competition from all over the UK to earn the top accolade in the Personal Injury Awards 2020.

It therefore merits that NR Times asks the question ‘Who is Digby Brown?’ so accident survivors and healthcare professionals can learn more about the firm which finds itself under the spotlight.

As a firm, Digby Brown has supported those affected by the most high profile cases in Scotland.

The Clutha helicopter tragedy. The Glasgow bin lorry disaster. The M9 police call handling scandal. The Stonehaven rail disaster. Abuse cases against religious groups and football clubs like Celtic. Even landmark settlements for asbestos disease claims.

And as a team, the firm’s serious injury department shares the firm’s reputation for being an expert advisor to survivors of ABI or spinal cord accidents.

Among the cases of note is the settlement of a claim for a man who suffered a serious head injury after being run over by the son of ex-Rangers footballer Ally McCoist.

They also act for the victims of a fatal road crash that claimed the life of one teenager and left two others with serious injuries.  This case was prolific in legal sector as it sparked a Scottish debate on the sentencing of drivers convicted of death by dangerous driving.

The firm, and indeed the serious injury department’s, reputation that has been hard-earned and forged with tenacity, compassion, consistent results and integrity which is why Digby Brown has strong ties among charities, support groups and health sectors.

Digby Brown is committed to not just recovering compensation – it has a compassionate hands-on approach to ensuring each survivor has a tailored all-round support package to meet their unique and individual needs.

Spinal Injuries Scotland and Back Up often refer spinal cord injury survivors to Digby Brown for legal support with spinal cord injuries while brain injury survivor network Headway highlights Digby Brown as a go-to firm for legal help after a traumatic brain injury.

Having close bonds with SIS and Back Up means Digby Brown also a great reputation among NHS staff at the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Unit in Glasgow – a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to treating and rehabilitating survivors of spinal cord injury.

The firms also repeatedly tops legal rankings year on year for personal injury work. In Chambers & Partners the firm has been ranked Band 1 for the last 15 years. The head of the serious injury department Chris Stewart is also ranked as a leading individual. While in The Legal 500 the firm has been ranked Tier 1 for the last 14 years.

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has around 50 accredited specialists in the Scotland for personal injury work – and around half of these work at Digby Brown. Then there’s Moira Kay, a Partner in the Serious Injury department, who is the only APIL-accredited specialist for both brain injury and spinal cord injury in the whole of Scotland.

Then there’s the settlements themselves – £223million in the last 10 years.

“So they have the reputation, results and talent – but what does Digby Brown do differently?”

Under the leadership of Partner Chris Stewart, the Serious Injury team makes sure each new client has access to:

Immediate medical care (even if it needs to be obtained privately)

Counselling or CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) – the firm does everything it can to help a new client tap into a positive mindset to enhance the effectiveness and speed of their recovery.

Interim payments – if a brain or serious injury survivor can no longer work then Chris and his team will seek an immediate lump sum to help with urgent issues like mortgage payments

A case management worker – to take a hands-on approach to helping assess and solve your immediate, short term and long term care needs while also putting things in motion to help you create a home, personal and (if possible) work life for the future.

Welfare rights – Digby Brown has in-house staff who help accident survivors navigate the benefits process pro bono (completely free) simply as part of their service.

Charity support – the firm’s recognition from charities means they can help survivors access peer support groups for guidance and hands-on help.

And when all this is happening, the team is not merely a voice on the other end of the phone.

Chris’ team will welcome you to one of their seven offices across Scotland (whichever is nearest to you) or they are just as happy to visit you at home or even your hospital if you’re still engaged with rehab work.

Outside of the legal support the serious injury team at Digby Brown has a proven track record in educating and enhancing the support available to ABI and spinal cord survivors.

Each year is hosts the Head Injury Information Day (HiiD) in Glasgow and Edinburgh where brain injury survivors or healthcare professionals come together to share knowledge and access support. The last event saw 30 exhibitors and 300 people attend – a popularity that will now see similar events planned for Inverness, Dumfries and Aberdeen.

They also host an annual summer barbecue at Castle Semple near Glasgow where wheelchair users can experience hand cycling, sailing or kayaking.

Or the famous Winter Dinner Dance – an annual black tie gala that is the highlight of the year on the Scottish legal social calendar to raise money for wheelchair users and the charities that support them.

Then there’s the road awareness events it hosts alongside road safety stakeholders for 16-year-old school pupils before they don their L plates as well as numerous sponsorship programmes it offers for wheelchair sports like the Caledonian Crushers or Dundee Dragons.

All these things is why Digby Brown won the Catastrophic Injury Team of the Year award last year.

As the Personal Injury Award 2020 judges noted: “Catastrophic injury cases can be incredibly complex and demand a high level of collaboration and team work in order to see them to a successful outcome.

“This dedication is also reflected in [Digby Brown’s] impressive community work where again it goes the extra mile.”

Chris Stewart, head of the serious injury department, explained what he thinks is the secret to the department’s success in Scotland.

“I am in the fortunate position of leading a team of high skilled and experienced solicitors who are unwavering in their focus of achieving the best possible results for clients,” he says.

“As a specialist team we can concentrate all of our energy and knowledge on the most seriously injured and guide them through what is a complex legal process.”

He also outlined a few key differences between the legal systems in Scotland and England and what this means for accident survivors – but also what he hopes will improve or be achieved in the future.

Chris adds: “The long awaited introduction of Periodical Payments in Scotland will mean, for the first time, the most seriously injured will have a legal right to have their damages paid annually for the remainder of their life, rather than being forced to accept a discounted, one-off, lump sum which they are expected to invest in volatile markets.”

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Robot with ‘potential to redefine neurorehab’ unveiled by Fourier

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A robotic rehab device hailed as being instrumental in changing the future of neurorehabilitation has been unveiled to the world by Fourier Intelligence, after more than two years in development. 

The ArmMotus™ EMU is the world’s first 3D back-drivable upper limb rehabilitation robot, setting a new benchmark for intelligent rehabilitation devices. 

The robot, the latest world-leading addition to Fourier Intelligence’s portfolio, is said to have the potential to redefine human-machine interaction. 

It is the first of its kind that applies the end-effector based concept into the 3D movement, bringing a new experience of robotics rehabilitation therapy. 

The product – revealed during RehabWeek 2021 – revolves around a cable-driven mechanism, that combines with a four-linkage structure, which reduces the friction and inertia during the movement of the system. This design also enables the control system to respond and execute more efficiently.

Zen Koh, co-founder and Global Hub CEO of Fourier IntelligenceZen Koh, co-founder and Global Hub CEO of Fourier Intelligence, hailed the robot as helping to redefine the future. 

“Current neurorehabilitation models primarily rely on extended hospital stays or regular therapy sessions which require close physical interactions between rehab professionals and patients,” he said. 

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic situation has challenged this model and as a result, many neurological patients are not receiving sufficient therapy. There is an urgent need to rethink conventional neurorehabilitation therapy.

“The new ArmMotus™ EMU provides that solution. The EMU, equipped with clinical intelligence, provides personalised therapy, technology-based solutions, coaching capabilities and remote monitoring.

“The implementation of fun functional games with embedded artificial intelligence also provides clinically motivating therapy to patients as well as giving caregivers and healthcare practitioners confidence.”Professor Denny Oetomo

The ArmMotus™ EMU, jointly built by Fourier Intelligence and the University of Melbourne Robotics Laboratory, has taken two years to bring to fruition and was led by Professor Denny Oetomo. 

“The robot offers large workspace with very minimal resistance and reflected inertia of the robot on the patient. This would allow the patient to move freely”, said Prof Oetomo.

“Combined with the appropriate gravity compensation of the weight of the arm, patients with weak or little arm function, is able to carry out therapy without exertion.”

Another key person to the success of the ArmMotus™ EMU, Dr Marlena Klaic, the translational research lead at Royal Melbourne Hospital, gave further insight into why robotic rehabilitation is important. 

“There’s a large and growing body of evidence suggesting that robotic devices can improve a patient’s outcome, including function, strength and ADL,” said Dr Klaic. 

“This evidence is growing even more rapidly in these pandemic times as more people are exploring digital and remote prevision therapies.

Dr Marlena Klaic, the translational research lead at Royal Melbourne Hospital“We conducted a user-based design study where we build and modify the robot based on the feedback from clinicians. Based on our results, we found that clinicians believe that robotic devices can be helpful in their practice. Patients and junior therapists are more frequently asking for robotic devices as part of their therapy session.”

Aside from exoskeleton and other one-dimension upper limb rehabilitation robots, EMU is based on terminal control and high technical content which is difficult to develop. It is China’s first breakthrough in this field. 

EMU uses the industry-leading force feedback technology platform, which was independently developed by Fourier Intelligence, to simulate the force exerted by a therapist. It also provides a large 3D trajectory training space which allows rehabilitation movements to be more realistic and guides users to complete various complex rehabilitation training.

Product director of Fourier Intelligence, Daris Yang, also explained the importance of having interactive rehabilitation programmes. 

“By equipping EMU with games such as table tennis, cooking, and fishing, this would simulate activities of daily living even more,” said Yang. 

“The boring and repetitive training actions in traditional rehabilitation makes it boring for patients to train for a long time. Our EMU game settings have completely rewritten the rehabilitation scene.”

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Brain Bank spearheads quest for CTE cure by 2040

Sportspeople are urged to play their role in making sport a safer place, as well as to follow the lead of Steve Thompson MBE in donating their brains to research

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Professional sportspeople were today urged to play their role in making sport safer as a pioneering project was announced with the aim of preventing new cases of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) within five years and of finding a cure by 2040. 

The internationally-renowned Concussion Legacy Foundation has now come to the UK, following 14 years of research and advocacy that has led to change in sport, and support of players, around the world. Its founder, Dr Chris Nowinski, was instrumental in forcing NFL to change its protocols around head injury through his 2006 book ‘Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis’. 

And through the creation of the Concussion Legacy Project, a new brain bank in partnership with the Jeff Astle Foundation, it hopes to gather more vital research in this area to protect future generations of sportspeople.

England Rugby World Cup winner Steve Thompson MBE announced he had become the first donor to the Project. 

And Dr Nowinski called on sportspeople to take the lead in making sport a safer place for themselves, their teammates and future generations, as he bids to eradicate CTE. 

Research has shown CTE develops through repeated hits to the head over a period of time, which can begin in childhood in many instances. 

“This is the time for professional sports men and women to step up and join the fight to change the game, reduce the risk of CTE, change your destiny,” he told a press conference. 

“Make no mistake – some of you already have CTE and every header or tackle will be making it worse. You will have teammates who will have, or will develop, CTE. 

“Step forward and make a positive difference. Take advantage of this opportunity before it’s too late. It is too late for heroes like Jeff Astle and Rod Taylor, but it’s not too late for our children.”

Dr Nowinski, who is an advocate of non-contact sport until at least the age of 14, reiterated his fears for children if action is not taken now. 

“We should not be giving children a preventable brain disease before they are old enough to drive, vote, or take many decisions for themselves,” he said. 

“We need to stop hitting children in the head, we are giving them a life-long brain disease. The only way we know to prevent CTE is to limit the exposure to head impact and we have to do that.”

Dr Adam White was announced as executive director of the newly-created Concussion Legacy Foundation UK.

“We’ve long known about the relationship between sport and CTE, but we urgently need to better understand how CTE affects athletes and veterans, as well as their families, at every stage of their life,” said Dr White. 

“We have reason for hope. CTE usually begins in a person’s teens or twenties, which means we have a lifetime to treat patients, educate people and support their families. 

“We want to stop all new cases of CTE in the next five years and have a cure by 2040.”

Appeals were also made for sportspeople to donate their brains to the Concussion Legacy Project, following the brave lead of Steve Thompson. 

The project builds on the lead of the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank in Boston, which has created the world’s leading CTE research program. To date, more than 1,000 brains have been donated and 600 cases of CTE diagnosed, which comprises about 80 per cent of the world’s confirmed cases.

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“I’m pledging my brain so the children of the people I love don’t have to go through what I have gone through,” said the former British Lion who was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 42. 

“It’s up to my generation to pledge our brains so researchers can develop better treatments and ways to make the game safer.”

“Brain donation is the most valuable gift of all for future generations of footballers,” said Dawn Astle, daughter of Jeff Astle. 

“It may be many years before this jigsaw is complete, but by adding each piece, one at a time, it is the only way we shall understand the true picture and so be able to make a better future for others. 

“The Jeff Astle Foundation encourages families of athletes and veterans to donate the brain of their loved one to the Concussion Legacy Project.”

The Concussion Legacy Project will be led by Dr Gabriele DeLuca, associate professor in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Oxford, and director of clinical neurosciences undergraduate education at Oxford Medical School.

“Brain donation will allow us to better understand the complexities of CTE so that we can develop tailored interventions and treatments to prevent its devastating consequences,” said Dr DeLuca. 

In the next phase of the collaboration, Dr. DeLuca will lead clinical research efforts aimed at learning how best to treat common CTE-related symptoms, including problems with thinking and memory, mood, and sleep.

Athletes and veterans can pledge to donate their brains to CTE research at PledgeMyBrain.org.

The Concussion Legacy Foundation UK has created a 24-hour brain donation hotline for families to call and coordinate brain donations. Family members of athletes and military service members who wish to donate their loved one’s brain can contact the Concussion Legacy Project at 07534 029 223 and UK@concussionfoundation.org.

 

 

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Sexual trauma ‘could lead to neurological conditions’

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Traumatic experiences, including sexual violence, could be linked to dementia, stroke and other brain disorders in women, new research has indicated.

Links between such trauma and poor mental and cardiovascular health are already established – but a new study suggests they could also be linked to indicators of cerebrovascular risk that may be a precursor to neurological conditions. 

To date, little research has been done to examine the relationship between traumatic experiences, including sexual assault, and indicators of small vessel disease in the brain. 

But a new study from the University of Pittsburgh specifically investigated whether traumatic experiences were associated with white matter hyperintensities (WMHs), which are markers of brain small vessel disease. 

WMHs can be detected decades before the onset of dementia, stroke, and other neurological risk and can serve as early markers. 

Of the nearly 150 mid-life women involved in the study, 68 per cent reported having at least one trauma, with the most common trauma being sexual assault (23 per cent of the women). 

After evaluating the data, researchers concluded that women with trauma exposure had greater WMH volume than women without trauma. The particular trauma significantly associated with WMH was sexual assault.

Associations between sexual assault and WMHs persisted even after adjusting for depressive or post-traumatic stress symptoms, suggesting that sexual assault may put women at greater risk for poor brain health.

“The results of this study are noteworthy in that sexual assault is an unfortunate, yet all-too-common, experience for women; national data indicates that, on average, up to a third of women have had this experience,” says Dr Rebecca Thurston from the University of Pittsburgh and lead author of the study.

“This distressing experience is not only important for women’s mental health, but also their brain health. This work is a major step toward identifying a novel risk factor for stroke and dementia among women. 

“Not only do these results underscore the need for greater prevention of sexual assault, but also provide healthcare professionals with another indicator of who may be at most risk for stroke and dementia later in life.”

“Identifying early warning signs of stroke and dementia are critical to providing effective intervention,” says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, North American Menopause Society (NAMS) medical director. 

“Studies like this one provide important information about the long-term effects of traumatic experiences on a woman’s overall well-being and mental health.”

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