Physiatrists restore hope

Physiatrist Dr. Paul Winston: “It’s a very humbling field.'

Physiatrist Dr. Paul Winston: “It’s a very humbling field.'

Being able to use both hands to type, load the dishwasher and swing a golf club were never possible for brain tumour survivor Craig McKinnon before he met Dr. Paul Winston.

Winston is a physiatrist (pronounced phys-eye-atrist), which is a medical doctor who specializes in rehabilitating patients suffering from neurological conditions.

After a large tumour was removed from McKinnon’s brain in 2005, the 32-year-old Oak Bay resident was left with severe weakness on his left side. That changed his world forever – or so he thought.

Thanks to Winston, who has been injecting botulinum toxin, or Botox, into McKinnon’s hand, arm and leg, he can keep up with his 21-month-old son, among other basic but essential life tasks.

“It’s shocking to me that no one recommended this to me back in Ontario (where he had his surgery). It feels like someone missed the ball on this.” McKinnon said.

Winston, who has an Esquimalt practice and clinics at Victoria General Hospital, said he spends a lot of time explaining what a physiatrist does.

“It’s a very humbling field,” said Winston, a Saanich resident. “No one ever hears of you, and they think you’re a podiatrist or a physiotherapist or a psychiatrist.”

There are about 10 neuro-rehabilitation doctors in Greater Victoria who, through medication and aids such as orthotics and braces, work to improve quality of life for patients after amputation, stroke and neurological-related chronic pain, among other conditions.

Winston is one of two physiatrists on the Island to sub-specialize in spinal cord injuries.

“I’m often told, ‘You’re my last hope,’” said Winston, who sees more than 70 patients a week and has a three- to four-month waiting list.

Such demand for physiatrists isn’t surprising considering the scope of their abilities – something McKinnon is reminded of every time he swings a golf club.

“I equate it to seeing again,” he said of his progress. “It’s night and day.”

emccracken@vicnews.com