Baltic-American
Freedom Foundation

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BAFF Research Scholar Linda Lancere on her program experience

My name is Linda Lancere and in July 2020 I returned from Baltic American Freedom Foundation Scholar program. It was realized in Iowa State, University of Iowa, Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine. The Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science has been able to maintain its No. 6 ranking from 2016, the last year U.S. News ranked physical therapy (PT) programs, so i feel honored to spend a year there. I must admit that the whole “affair” can be considered as huge luck, starting from a suggestion made partly as a joke to go to US, finding the accepting professor just by e-mail sent to him with no previous introduction, meeting the right people through the whole experience and the list goes on.

More about the project – I am a post-doctoral researcher at Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences and with their, BAFF and CIEE huge support I brought a part of the postdoctoral program to Iowa. The aim of my research is to improve the quality of life to leg amputees by means of real-time feedback (muscle activity, breathing, pulse, blood pressure, glucose levels). The feedback is provided to the patient during specific deep core muscle exercises in a gamified environment in augmented reality. I want to make the boring process entertaining but at the same time – to obtain objective data that works in favor of the patient and functional specialist. During the research process in the US we realized that population with low back pain, diabetes, and other conditions would also benefit from this solution since they all have similar postural, muscle disbalance patterns, their health is fragile and needs to be monitored in long term.

I was working in The Human Performance and Clinical Outcomes lab which is a state of the art lab working to aid military veterans and civilians who have suffered trauma in the lower extremities. They use virtual reality to simulate different terrains, motion sensors, force plates, and other technologies for analysis and improvement in numerous studies.

I had a chance to get familiar with most of the technologies but my task was to become friends with muscle activity wireless sensors from Delsys company to be able to perform my research study.

First, there was the “getting introduced” part with formalities and paperwork. It took some time but i believe that is one of the reasons why the university system is pretty smooth. Everything from lab everyday order until the research ethics committee is put on the paper in a very concise way.  Even though I’m a fan of how Latvians are creative, this approach makes a lot of things easy and fast in the long run. Also the tight network between the academics, research, University hospital and Innovation department at the University.

A large amount of theoretical and practical preparation was a must, my personal challenge was to cut the “I want to test everything” to the “Let’s estimate and do what’s possible”. The UI mentor Jason Wilken (PT, PhD) made a huge impact on strategic research planning and on the way, I see the research process now. The brainstorming and discussions with this experienced professor were definitely several steps up in envolvement. Finally, I was ready for the study, the e-mail invitations were sent out to more than 30000 University employees and ex-employees. In both professional and free time aspects, I was surprised about the great support that society shows to science and volunteering. They consider it an honor.  The study started off very well until.. you know.. Still, I am happy we realized at least a part of the study which will be a solid ground to continue the research here and to publish. It was satisfying to see how study participants acknowledge that they can do much more than they imagined and in a more efficient way just because of real-time feedback while working out. That is what we managed to observe from participants’ reactions and also from the data using muscle activity sensors and augmented reality headset. Participants were able to increase their deep abdominal muscle activity by 100% seeing the real-time graphs and focusing on getting them higher by engaging muscles. So then the lock-down started but for me, it wasn’t a big problem work-wise, data processing takes a lot more time than the actual practical work.

 

A few steps back on practical things – after the fellowship was approved, it got a little surreal since there were at least 6 months before leaving the country. The whole paperwork process was very smooth, after arriving in the US, all the banking and other practicalities didn’t bring any headaches. One of the biggest lucks I consider finding an apartment to live in while still being in Latvia. Me and my two sons arrived at the apartment in the middle of the night, the keys were waiting for us. Thank god, we knew that the apartment will be empty which is very weird for a Latvian. So we had some basic things with us.

The life in a university town is pretty calm, even if its a very international town. I believe the American mentality made it very easy to feel good on everyday basis. Everyday life when there are school events, always kids together with the parents. International nights when you look up for facts about Latvia you never knew about before. There is shopping and exploring Walmart or Goodwill for the first time. There are volunteering events non-stop. That is something I would be happy to see also here – a 5year old kid who knows that volunteering is cool. There are weekends in the park or watching the homecoming parade. There is Porzingis closest game hunt. There is driving in an old fuel destroying jeep and not caring about the fuel consumption – imagine it here! And we are Hawkeyes fans forever I believe:) The trip experience is one more thing I hope all of us will remember – Chicago-Florida and Iowa-Truckee (North California), one with a camper and one – with a regular car. The first was meant to be a trip to a conference which got canceled and turned out to a visit to Orlando, guess who enjoyed it the most…

So yes, once again, we were extremely lucky to have the whole range of experiences. One of the reasons to pull this off – being a little crazy, planning like crazy and not delaying things you want to do.