Message From The CMO
Gerard E. Francisco, M.D.
Chief Medical Officer
TIRR Memorial Hermann
Chair, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
McGovern Medical School at UTHealth
Lives cross in unusual ways. In this issue we share the story of aerospace engineer and former TIRR Memorial Hermann patient Earle Powdrell, who holds two United States patents for the Part Task Trainer, which trains astronauts and cosmonauts to dock to the International Space Station. A five-year brain stem stroke survivor with locked-in syndrome, Earle now advocates locally and nationally for access to affordable health care, tax relief for families affected by disability and community reintegration.
Among those who trained using the NASA system Earle helped develop is former American astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, the husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, author, gun control advocate and herself a former TIRR Memorial Hermann patient. Both have used strength and courage to turn disability into ability.
For the past two years, Earle has advocated for the passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2014. Under the old legislation, people with disabilities could amass only $2,000 in tax-free savings accounts without losing their right to government benefits. The ABLE Act allows savings of up to $100,000 without putting at risk eligibility for Social Security, Medicare and other government programs. These new options allow people with disabilities to participate in the labor force without fear of losing their social safety net.
In June, Earle will travel to Washington, D.C., as one of four National Spinal Cord Injury Association representatives from Texas to United Spinal’s Roll on Capitol Hill – for the fourth year in a row. The life choices he has made send a powerful message to all of us: never give up.