It is May 22 and, the day is as bright as a Leonardo’s idea and Milan is going to host the 5th European Stroke Organisation Conference. Indeed, Milan hosted the genius from Vinci too, in late XV Century. As everyone knows, Leonardo was a genius able to put thoughts into action, to imagine divine faces and bodies and to draw them perfectly, to dream of skies and clouds and to project a wooden helicopter. This is why, here at ESOC, the Young Stroke Physician and Researchers Workshop tries to push great scientific ideas towards strong research networks.

We interview Dr. Faddi Saleh Velez, who presents the research entitled “The PASHT trial: randomized crossover sham-controlled trial evaluating safety and feasibility of transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) for paroxysmal sympathetic hyperactivity post stroke and TBI” at the YSPR Workshop. Dr. Saleh Velez is a Colombian physician currently training as a neurology resident at the university of Chicago. He previously worked as a Post-doctoral research fellow for 2 years at the Spaulding neuromodulation center in Harvard studying the application of Non-invasive brain stimulation techniques (NIBS) for stroke and neuropathic pain.

How did you get involved in stroke research?

Since the beginning of my career the intricacies and mysteries of the brain led me to focus on neuroscience. My interest in stroke research dates back to medical school in Colombia, South America, where the burden of the disease and the consequences for patients and their families had an extremely high impact. Therefore, I decided to explore several types of possibilities to enhance my training as to improve my abilities to provide better care to my patients. Even thought I had experience in the functional neurosurgery to evaluate novel techniques for the management of neurologic disorders, I wanted to explore less invasive and more accessible therapies, therefore my 2-year post-doctoral fellowship in non-invasive neuromodulation. In Boston, I worked with clinical Translational research therapies for the treatment of stroke, particularly the application of non-invasive brain stimulation techniques such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) as well as pharmacological therapies.

 Why did you choose this topic?

Although in my country the care for patients was of extremely importance, the opportunities to do research and try to find long term solution for stroke complications led me to travel and learn from other countries and several mentors. In Barcelona, I saw first-hand the effect of electrical stimulatory techniques changing people’s life in a second, just with turning on an implanted device. Once completed medical school working as a fellow at a Harvards’ laboratory, I moved to US, where I applied the non-invasive brain stimulatory techniques such as TMS and tDCS at the Spaulding Neuromodulation Center. Together with my research partner, Camila Pinto, we got involved in different research trials on stroke patients. Once I started residency at the University of Chicago Medical center, I was able to experience first-hand clinical challenges with patients with severe strokes and traumatic brain injuries. Here I saw for the first time the extremely negative effects that paroxysmal sympathetic hyperactivity has on patients, which led me to investigate additional therapeutic approaches for this condition. My background skills on NIBS allows us to create this alternative research study that we hope will give us some answers about the safety of these techniques in acute stroke and traumatic brain injury and about the underlying pathophysiologic mechanism of the paroxysmal sympathetic hyperactivity.

What have been the most difficult challenges regarding your research career so far?

I believe that the biggest challenge in my young research career is mostly lack of time. Although I had the amazing opportunity to learn some aspects of research with my dedicated post-doctoral research fellowship, my desire to get close to patient care and to pursue my career as neurologist led me to start my residency at the university of Chicago. Sharing the time required for an adequate clinical training in residency with the required time needed to continue developing my career as a researcher has been challenging. I have been lucky to share this time with amazing colleagues and research mentors that have supported me and helped me to try to find the most time to continue developing my research skills while I keep up with my clinical duties.

How to balance work life and free time/home life?

I believe that the secret to a happy and productive life is a combination of work success, family time and personal care, and I base all my decisions and create all my habits around those 3 areas, making sure that the progress in one positively affects the others. For instance, even though my schedule is tight, I always try to exercise as it helps me be more alert at work, it improves my health to enjoy more time with my family, and it gives me more confidence. Moreover, I have been blessed with a family that supports every decision I make, and that helps me keep grounded to what it is important in life, which has helped me realize my dreams. First of all, my mom has been the key participant of my success. She has not only supported me financially, but also has always reminded me that I could achieve anything I set my mind to. My fiancée, who is a PhD and a researcher, has supported me and helped me developing my projects, providing me with new ideas and a different perspective to analyze things and how to focus and achieve goals. And finally, my sister and brother-in-law, who are entrepreneurs and data scientists, that have helped drive my love for reading and learning from different topics that broaden my knowledge.