Patient Empowerment

Our Expert Panel

The expert panel provided a base of support and network of connections for the stakeholder cohort. The panel also shared their personal experiences and knowledge to support this capacity building initiative, and dedicated time to meet quarterly in person and monthly by phone or online. Panelists are all individuals living with a traumatic spinal cord injury or have had one-on-one experience with a person living with a traumatic spinal cord injury.

Steve Gard, PhD, RERC

Director, Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center;
Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering

Building on an early fascination with biomedical engineering, Dr. Gard investigates and quantifies the ways that prosthetic and orthotic devices affect the biomechanics of gait. He is the editor-in-chief of the “Journal of Prosthetics and Orthotics.”

 Learn more about Dr. Gard


Michelle Gittler, MD – panel chair

Medical Director, Spinal Cord Injury Medicine, Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital;
Medical Director, Spinal Cord Injury Medicine

Dr. Gittler focuses on identifying and managing medical complications following spinal cord injury. Over two decades at Schwab, she became an expert in working with individuals who sustained violently acquired disabilities. Dr. Gittler has been on the forefront of promoting the concept of firearm violence as a public health issue. She is also the longtime director of Schwab’s residency program.

 Learn more about Dr. Gittler


Kevin Hull, JD

Executive Director, Westside Institute for Science and Education (WISE);
Jesse Brown VA Medical Center;
Member, PCORI CORN Patient Clinician Advisory Committee

Dr. Hull cultivates medical research and innovation to serve Veterans with disabilities, including trauma-induced SCI. WISE is a charitable organization dedicated to advancing the wellness of the veterans at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center. A cancer survivor and former Assistant Counsel to the Illinois House of Representatives, Kevin has taught Legislative Drafting at his law school since 2007.

 Learn more about Dr. Hull


Stephanie Kanter

Business Support Manager, AbilityLab, Adaptive Sports and Fitness Program, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

Ms. Kanter has been an athlete and advocate for people with disabilities since sustaining a spinal cord injury in 1994. She is a board member on Chicago’s Human Relations Commission (which enforces city human rights and fair housing ordinances) and a peer counselor to newly injured women with SCI and as an adult peer to youth with disabilities. She also served on two disability-related international exchanges sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

 Learn more about Ms. Kantner


Larry Labiak

Disability Policy Office, Chicago Park District

An SCI survivor, Mr. Labiak oversees the district’s ADA and accessibility compliance initiatives and advises all departments on disability. The first to serve the district in this role, he brought more than 30 years’ experience in adaptive sports programs, including more than a decade in the Mayor’s office, where he developed the Disabled Youth Peer Development Initiative.

 Learn more about Mr. Labiak


Susan Magasi, PhD, MS, BScOT, BSc

Assistant Professor, Occupational Therapy and of Disability and Human Development College of Applied Health Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago

Dr. Magasi’s research and teaching are focused on healthcare justice for people with disabilities. She works closely with the disability community using an equity-focused, community-based participatory approach to help understand and address barriers to primary and cancer care, and is the principal investigator on thre intervention research studies focusing on the use of peer support to promote equity in healthcare.

 Learn more about Dr. Magasi


Harold Pollack, PhD – special adviser

Helen Ross Professor, School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago;
Affiliate Professor in the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division

Dr. Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor at the School, and an Affiliate Professor in the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division and the Department of Public Health Sciences. He has published widely at the interface between poverty policy and public health and gained wider public attention for work that grew out of caring for a brother with an intellectual disability.

 Learn more about Dr. Pollack


Larry Vogel, MD

Medical Director, Spinal Cord Injury Program, Shriners Hospitals for Children

Over the past three decades, Dr. Vogel has dedicated his time to the care of children and adolescents with spinal cord injuries. The chief of pediatrics since 1981, and medical director of the Spinal Cord Injury program since its inception in 1983, he has been the principal investigator of a grant studying the psychological, educational, vocational and sexual adjustment of patients with SCI and their families and investigated long-term use of various braces. A major interest is long-term follow up of children and adolescents with SCI.

 Learn more about Dr. Vogel


Eric Wilkins

Founder and Executive Director, Broken Winggz Foundation

Mr. Wilkins, an SCI survivor, created an organization dedicated to preventing injuries from gun violence. He focuses on creating resources and supports for other individuals and their families. Mr. Wilkins has also joined with other paralyzed young people to take a stand against gun violence.

 Learn more about Mr. Wilkins


It’s important to tweak and adapt the training based on who is in your cohort.
This project was made possible through generous funding from PCORI, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.
Connect with our stakeholders or learn more about this initiative, email us at