James S. Krause, Ph.D: Award winner’s story is about the people in his life

2011 Medtronic National Courage Award winner James S. Krause, Ph.D., has long and distinguished resume of academic accomplishments. Kraus is a professor and associate dean for Research in the College of Health Professions at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston. He is a leading national expert and researcher who specializes in health and longevity following a spinal cord injury.

Krause is also a man with deep roots in Minnesota, as he is a native of Wadena and a University Minnesota alumnus. And he also is someone who believes in the value of people, dating back to his days as a 16-year-old who had sustained a spinal cord injury at the C4-5 level. Access Press spoke to Krause on the eve of his Courage Center award ceremony Sept. 24.

Courtesy of Vicki McEvoy

“This is a great honor,” said Krause of his award. “I was aware of the past honorees through my connections to Courage Center and I often thought how cool it would be to receive the award.”

The Medtronic National Courage Award, presented annually by Courage Center and the Medtronic Foundation, recognizes an individual’s outstanding contributions to the health, welfare and rehabilitation of people with disabilities.

“I was a Courage Center inpatient for more than three years and certainly would not have been able to accomplish nearly as much as I have without the benefit of the services I received there. It gave me a foundation from which to build. The friendships I developed there have lasted. Receiving this award will help me continue my work and to positively impact the lives of people with disabilities.”

Over the years, Krause’s important spinal cord injury research has involved more than 5,000 people. His curriculum vitae is packed with articles and research that has changed many lives. While many scholar-researchers focus on research in a clinical way, Krause looks at the human side.

“My story is really about people,” he said. Growing up in Wadena, “I was not a good student. I was very average – my best grades were probably in physical education.”

After his accident and injury in 1971, family members, friends and the entire community of Wadena rallied around. “I have a wonderful family and they made many sacrifices on my behalf.” Community members hung a banner across Wadena’s Main Street to encourage him and helped his family by raising $10,000 to help with medical expenses. “That was a lot of money back then, and a lot of money for people in a small town to raise,” he said. Knowing the community was behind him helped Krause move forward and seek purpose in his life.

Others stepped in to help. One person who has become a lifelong friend is former Minnesota Viking Bob Lee, who was contacted by Krause’s mother after his injury. Lee not only sent a “great big Vikings blanket” as a gift, he and Krause became friends. Another person who stepped in to help was Sen. Hubert Humphrey, who made sure Krause’s brother could come home from the military and help the family.

Another important community that supported Krause and helped move him forward was at Courage Center. From 1976-79, he was a patient at Courage Center’s Transitional Rehabilitation Program (TRP), known then as Courage Residence. A three-year inpatient stay at Courage Center was common during in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, the average length of stay for someone with a spinal cord injury is 99 days. “It was a great, supportive environment,” Krause said of his Courage Center years. “I really started to grow up there.”

“With numerous medical rehabilitation and assistive technological advancements in the past 25 years, our client’s length of stay in the TRP has been dramatically reduced,” said Martha Swenson, senior director, Transitional Rehabilitation Program. “Our program continues to be based on a holistic approach to rehabilitation with the belief that our clients can realize their full potential in every aspect of life.”

“Different people talk about different phases of their lives that defined them and this was one of mine,” said Krause. He began his undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota, met his best friend, Tony LeBon and a number of role models, and used the experiences as a springboard for his career.

“There was nothing like it at the time,” he said of the TRP. “People who had led lives with disabilities hadn’t had a place where they could live and make the transition to independence.” The program not only helped people with rehabilitation, it also brought people with shared experiences together.

Longer-term residents would help and support newcomers. Residents would mark the dates of their spinal cord injuries together. “It would help that people who had been through the experience for a while could support others, and make sure people weren’t by themselves on their anniversary date.”

After leaving Courage Center, Krause received his B.A. degree in 1980 and his Ph.D. in 1990 from the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota. He and his best friend from Courage Center, Tony LeBon, lived in California for a time. He then worked the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a nationally known rehabilitation facility, for 13 years.

“When I moved away from Minnesota, and lived in other places, I was struck by seeing that there are fewer resources for people in other states than there are here.”

Krause’s career includes many published articles in professional journals, as well as numerous awards. In

2008, Dr. Krause was inducted into the Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Hall of Fame by the National SCI Association for his research in quality of life. He is quick to share his successes with others, mostly his wife Laura and included those who have helped with his studies.

He also offered insights into his work, saying it is important to focus on people and how their quality of life can be improved. In his field, there is much debate over recovery from special cord injuries. Recovery was given a higher profile in recent years by the late actor Christopher Reeve.

Krause said that while recovery deserves research and attention, and gets many of the headlines, there needs to be a focus on rehabilitation and helping people find the best quality of life available. He noted that it is critically important to help people make life changes that allow them to be productive and contributing members of society.

“We look at how so many things are tied to quality of life—having a job, getting an education, being in a community,” he said. Quality of life can be tied to health and lifespan. “That is the focus for me.”