Maryville University associate professor of nursing and neurorehabilitation nurse Linda Schultz, PhD, CRRN, has taught for 20 years and practiced nursing for 30 years. But she’s never stopped learning from patients — including one who is better known as Superman.
Schultz connected with Christopher Reeve — who starred in three Superman movies beginning in 1978, and became quadriplegic after a 2005 accident — while working at Washington University in the early 1990s. She made the connection by boldly calling Reeve’s nurse in New York, to ask if he’d participate in a research program.
“The nurse said, ‘Just a minute, I’ll let you talk to him,’” Schultz recalls.
For four years, Schultz worked with Reeve here in St. Louis and at his home in New York. Upon her advice, his regular nurses packed his tracheotomy site more loosely to preserve his voice, a voice that spoke up on policy and research concerns for people with disabilities and paralysis.
“What I learned from Christopher Reeve was how to really advocate for people,” she says. “It was the experience of a lifetime.”
Schultz brings that experience to her research and evidence-based classes to Maryville’s McAuley School of Nursing, and to her own research about the need to ensure patients with spinal cord injuries have access to proper exercise equipment. Evidence shows movement helps the nervous system to regenerate.
Even today, Schultz absorbs knowledge from patients she’s never met. Through the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, she presents free webinars, conducts a monthly “Ask the Nurse” webcast and writes a weekly blog post.
People often ask Schultz about issues stemming from “autonomic dysreflexia,” an overreaction of the involuntary nervous system with serious consequences, such as skyrocketing blood pressure. It can be triggered by something as simple as an irritated bladder or even a wrinkled sheet that might register as mere discomfort in a healthy person, Schultz says.
One blog reader wrote her about a situation that arose whenever he used his computer.
“He said, ‘Every time, I get a stuffy nose and everybody thinks I’m nuts,’” Schultz recalls.
Sharing information back-and-forth, Schultz figured out that the refrigerator, next to his computer desk, was the culprit. A surge of light emanated from the screen every time someone opened the door, compromising his breathing. Schultz recommended he move his computer to another part of the house.
“He did, and all the symptoms went away,” she says.
In class, Schultz uses the stories of her online interactions to drive home the importance of hard research.
“I can show students, ‘This is how you can use evidence to inform people about what’s really going on with them,’” Schultz says.