Duo of Doctors Heal Veterans

Duos Come in all forms and across all trades. Batman and Robin. Simon and Garfunkle. Ben and Jerry. Mork and Mindy. Lewis and Clark. Bert and Ernie. Bauman and Spungen.

Haven’t heard of the last duo? Well under their leadership the two doctors have collaborated to study medical consequences of spin cord injuries for over 20 years. They’re making breakthroughs every day.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affair’s Center of Excellence on the Medical Consequences of Spinal Cord Injury is lucky to have Center Director Dr. William A. Bauman and Associate Director Dr. Ann M. Spungen on their team.

For their work, Dr. Bauman and Dr. Sungen have been named finalists for the Service to America Medals, also known as the Sammies – the Oscars for federal employees.

The two focus on neglected but highly relevant issues facing those with spinal cord injuries.


“We don’t stand on ceremony, we get things done. I’m very fortunate to have someone of Ann’s caliber working by my side as she has for over two decades,” said Dr. Bauman. “The physician’s investigators who work at VA facilities are idealistic people. They’re less driven by their own economic concerns. There’s a good camaraderie in our institution.”


According to the Sammies website, Spungen became captivated after entering Bauman’s energetic atmosphere where everyone seemed intrinsically motivated to come to work.


“Our mission has been to identify the health problems facing persons with spinal cord injury,” said Dr. Spungen. “And [secondly], to intervene in order to prevent or reduce these secondary medical consequences of paralysis and inactivity. Our group has had the opportunity to provide knowledge and insight into the immediate and long-term medical problems that occur after spinal cord injury, and then to contribute in numerous ways to improve clinical care for our veterans and nonveterans with spinal cord injury.”


Some of their breakthroughs include recognizing that those with spinal cord injuries have an increased risk of heart disease and that those with high levels of paralysis have an increased risk for pulmonary disorders. They’ve also developed a better approach to successful colonoscopies.


“We’d like to test new pharmacologic and mechanical strategies to preserve bone and muscle mass and strength shortly after injury and I think we’re on the cusp of being able to do that,” said Dr. Bauman. “To reduce cardiovascular risk first you have to define it, which we’re doing, and then you have to prevent it. There are many strategies to do that, but once again, you have to know if there’s a problem to prevent it.”


The two have conducted an encouraging pilot study which concluded that just by walking (even with assistance), a patient’s mental and physical well-being significantly increases. In fact, the study led to a pending grant from the Department of Defense, allowing the doctors to get 64 people with spinal cord injury up and walking in light and detachable devices across three sites.


“The Department a Defense proposal will address the ability to use the device and how quickly they can learn to use it in a hospital setting. But it also will address some of the medical issues that this device may improve,” said Dr. Bauman.


Aside from research, the VA also takes pride in developing young professionals.


“What people don’t realize is that the VA is heavily vested in both performing research and training young investigators,” said Dr. Bauman.


“One thing we do on a daily basis here is mentor young staff. And we mentor all disciplines, from the house staff positions, to the clinicians, to the research coordinators that work on our unit. We’re constantly mentoring people to have them pick up the field. We both realize that we’re not going to be here forever. We’ve been here for 24 years, but we have to have people come in and take our place as we leave and carry the baton so to speak,” said Dr. Spungen.


The two exemplify the phrase “public servant.” They apply their skill set to the veterans who are need of their care. But don’t expect them to take all of the credit.


“This recognition showcases one of the accomplishments the Department of Veteran Affairs healthcare system. And it’s an incredibly impressive research program, but it is appreciated that the VA medical centers provide high quality clinical care to our nation’s veterans,” says Dr. Bauman.


“Our future objectives are to continue to improve the lives and wellbeing of those with spinal cord injury, and other disabilities as well. And what we’d like to do is build on our past knowledge and accomplishments.”



You can find all our Sammies interviews here.

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