While the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, Chanelle Wimbish, a T6 paraplegic from College Park, Maryland, works to help find a treatment for another devastating disease.
As a clinical research assistant at Social & Scientific Systems, Wimbish helps write the studies that examine the causes and comorbidities of HIV in an effort to find an ultimate cure. Though the world has more of a handle on the causes and treatments for HIV today, as we grapple with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wimbish is reminded of the early days of HIV/AIDS.
“There are so many similarities in the panic of it all. Everything is so unknown right now that it’s scary,” she says. “All you can do is follow what the major scientific and health authorities tell us, and with HIV/AIDS, it was the same thing.”
Being in the public health field of infectious diseases, she is able to look to the historical trajectory of HIV/AIDS for solace, hopeful that although there is no treatment for COVID-19 now, that won’t always be the case.
“I have a comfort in knowing science and knowing through my networks and connections that every scientist and every medical professional in the world right now is working on figuring out exactly what this virus does to the body, how best to treat it and how best to cure it,” says Wimbish.
In fact, she is one of them. Because of its experience and international network, the AIDS clinical trials group that Wimbish currently works with recently got assigned to run a treatment study for COVID-19, even though the study is not HIV-related.
Just two and a half weeks ago, she and doctors from all over the U.S. began designing a study with 2,000 enrollees to test a treatment regimen and see if it would prevent the enrollees from dying or being hospitalized. “That is just mind-blowing,” she says, about how quickly it’s coming together and how many people are involved. Her role will be to help create the written document that doctors will follow to enroll individuals and to manage other aspects of the study once enrollment begins.
As a biology major in college, Wimbish probably never imagined she’d find herself on the front lines working toward a cure of a virus responsible for a global pandemic. Her journey began 15 years ago when she interned at an AIDS clinic called Philadelphia FIGHT in her senior year. It was sobering for her to realize how AIDS disproportionately affects black people, and more specifically, black women.
“There is a personal piece there and that, too, was my driver in getting in the field and staying in the field,” she says. “It made me feel sad and upset that the numbers were like that for black women, but it also gave me the motivation to see what I could do to help my sisters.”
But those aren’t the only women she’s helping. Wimbish also works as a peer mentor, participates in spinal cord injury research and blogs about the unique challenges women with spinal cord injuries face. She says her role as an HIV researcher is directly impacted by her SCI and vice versa.
“I recognize, acknowledge and appreciate how vital research is. That both writing and participating in it is important, no matter what the disease or injury is. It’s really neat to see that and feel that connection, whether I’m on one end writing it or the other end participating in it. I know the value of new treatments or a cure first-hand,” she says.
Read Wimbish’s blog at Chanelle’s Cause, chanellescause.com.
A Wedding to Remember
Wimbish accomplished her long-held goal of walking down the aisle when she tied the knot on Nov. 1, 2019.
“Ten years ago, when I was first injured, I had the goal to walk again. I thought if it happened, cool, and if it didn’t, that was fine too. I went through therapy for the first six months living this ‘one day at a time’ mindset. In that time I saw no movement, but then one day, I started wiggling my toes. Still, I was focused on the bigger picture of living life as I did before my injury, even if it was in a seated position.
Six or seven years later, I got accepted into a research study and used an exoskeleton for gait training for three months, and at the same time, I got engaged. I’d seen some improvement in my gait training with this exoskeleton, and I was able to walk short distances around the house with a walker or forearm crutches, so I made another goal: to walk down the aisle with forearm crutches. Being an athlete as well, I was always a goal setter, and I worked really hard at any goal I had in any sport I was playing, so that’s how I looked at it.
It wasn’t a matter of, ‘I must do this rehab to walk down the aisle for everybody else’s satisfaction or joy.’ It was me feeling accomplished and working my body as much as I thought I could to reach that goal for my special day. It was a feeling of having worked so hard and being proud of myself. Being the scientist that I am, it was my personal case study developing over 10 years.”
Laws I Want to See Changed:
Just the way everything is built, I would love a universal plan, so every building is guaranteed 100% accessible.
Most Accessible Placed I’ve Ever Been:
Seattle, Sea Isle City in New Jersey, and the D.C./Maryland area because the metro system is awesome — every station has an elevator.
Olympic Trials by Fire:
At the Olympic trials for the 2016 Games in Rio De Janeiro, I had many personal best swims and placed third and fourth in my races. They only took first and second place, but I was pretty proud of myself.
Why I Joined United Spinal:
I wanted to serve as an advocate in a more official group capacity rather than just by myself.
** This post was originally published on https://www.newmobility.com/2020/06/chanelle-wimbish/