Sheldon R. Simon, MD
Born: August 19, 1941 - Brooklyn, NY
Entry into the AT field: 1968
How I got into the field
I went to New York University (NYU) and graduated with an engineering degree. Many of my friends had gone on to medical school and I was persuaded to apply and attend medical school. While I was in medical school I learned a great deal about how engineering could be applied to medicine. I started in cardiology working on heart valves and later switched to orthopaedics. I studied orthopaedics at Harvard where I concentrated on human motion. As an orthopaedic resident at Children's Hospital in Boston I worked with ands studied children with cerebral palsy. I thought the application of engineering could help these kids.
Important event(s) that influenced my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
An important person in my decision to enter the field was William Berenberg, MD who was a pediatrician at Children's Hospital. He was very influential in my understanding of neuromuscular disorders. Melvin Glimcher, MD recruited me into the Orthopaedic program at Harvard. He believed my engineering skills could be effectively applied to orthopaedics. Dr. Glimcher raised $100,000 in order to create a laboratory for me. Dr. Berenberg was instrumental in creating the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center at Harvard-MIT in the 1970's.
Why I chose the AT field
Besides being a glutton for punishment, I had a need for patients. It was obvious to me that creativity was needed to solve the problems of many of these kids. It seemed the neurologists didn't know very much about function at the time. I believed my engineering problem solving skills combined with my clinical interests would greatly benefit my patients. I learned a lot in the process of working on these problems.
My inspiration and mentor
Drs. Berenberg and Glimcher were primary inspirations and mentors. Jackie Perry, MD was at Rancho Los Amigos was also an inspiration and mentor to me.
Why the field is important to me and the central focus of my work
My work in human motion and gait analysis has been important in order to make sense of the treatments we were using. There was no biomechanical basis for many of the treatments we were using and no objective ways of measuring results. I have focused my work primarily in gait analysis and the clinical problems of gait of neuromuscular and orthopaedic disorders.
My memorable successes and greatest contributions to the field
I believe the greatest successes have been the number of engineers who received PhDs through our programs. Almost every problem we were faced with we considered to be PhD material. The application of computer science, statistics, and artificial intelligence to the problems of gait analysis have been major contributions. We developed sophisticated computer programs to advance the science of gait analysis. We put the science of gait analysis on a solid foundation, bringing it into the electronic and computing age. I contributed to the commercialization of motion analysis systems with the Vicon system. We also contributed to the ability to merge additional data with the gait data such as EMG. I also contributed to the development of the AMT force plate.
I was the only medical doctor among the original founders of RESNA. I was the Treasurer when the organization was broke. The organization expanded greatly during my term as President. I am most proud that we managed to retain the name "RESNA" after much discussion to change it.
My most memorable failures
I don't think I had very many failures. My first NIH grant got turned down because we didn't have good normal data on kids. However, as it turns out, not having that grant allowed me to have other grants that contributed to the advancement of clinical applications instead of developing normative databases. Not focusing on developing databases allowed us to advance the technology of gait analysis.
Significant changes and advances in the field since I first entered it
The major changes are multiple. The use of computer technology, speech recognition, and electronic miniaturization have been a major advance. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has contributed significantly to opening life and expanding opportunities for people with disabilities. I was honored to represent RESNA and the Easter Seals Research Board at the Senate hearing for the ADA. It is wonderful to see how far we had gone. As Chairman of state Tech Act in Ohio I was instrumental in helping to development the programs.
With money tightening up it's harder to get some of the advanced technology to the kids. The technology and financial sides haven't merged very well. The realization of what can really be done has not made it to public awareness. Lack of focus on individual AT has prevented it from reaching its potential. Significant changes have occurred in the field regarding finances. One of the results is there are very few clinical teams for assistive technology.
On the future of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology
I believe there are two sides to the coin. As a topic for masters and PhD dissertations there have been many contributions to the advancement of engineering skills on an academic level. But academics can't survive without the practical side. In ten years when technology is even cheaper and smaller and easily implanted we will see significant advances. We're on the first level of computer technology. There will be an explosion in 10 years with a lull in the meantime. However, I have a concern about who will do it in 10 years if continuity is lost.
My role within RESNA and what it gave back to me
I was the only medical doctor among the original founders of RESNA. RESNA has always been a part of my career. I made certain to make it part of my career. I served in a number of leadership positions including, Treasurer and President. I think interaction of the people of RESNA is most important. RESNA created a forum for my work that could not be duplicated anywhere else.
On the future of RESNA
RESNA has been a consensus organization pulling together all the factions of the field which is its greatest strength and greatest weakness. A lot of areas of AT have grown up outside the organization. SIGS were created to address this issue. It will come down to the people who feel it is important to keep RESNA viable. People will have to want to come to RESNA. RESNA will have to conceive of new programs. It will take imagination, cross-pollination, interaction, and multidisciplinary efforts.
My suggestions for those just entering the field
You have to have a love and interest in the field. It will never be dull. It will always require you to stretch your mind and to use your knowledge and experience to create new things. With technology changing so much and so fast, there are a lot of opportunities.