Cleveland, OH,
09:12 AM

MetroHealth's Kim Anderson-Erisman Awarded Neilsen Visionary Prize


Kim Anderson-Erisman, PhD, a professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at MetroHealth Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, has received the 2021 Neilsen Visionary Prize awarded by the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation.

She is one of three people honored this year by the foundation, the largest private funder of spinal cord injury (SCI) research, education, clinical training and programmatic support in the U.S. and Canada.

The Neilsen Visionary Prize “celebrates influential voices who show great potential to expand or advocate for new ideas for those living with a disability,” and its recipients reflect qualities “from being unafraid to take bold risks, to boundless determination and passion, to the ability to inspire others,” the foundation said in its October 20 announcement.

The honor comes with a $1 million unrestricted prize.

“Pure shock,” Dr. Anderson-Erisman said she felt when the foundation’s leaders broke the news during a Zoom meeting earlier this month, then asked her to keep it confidential until the announcement was released.

“To be thought of a visionary in my field is very humbling to me,” said Dr. Anderson-Erisman, who joined MetroHealth in 2018. She is Director of the Northeast Ohio Regional SCI System based at the MetroHealth Rehabilitation Institute.

“For the last 16 or 17 years of my research, a huge part of it has been about bringing the voice of people with SCI into that research and making it better. I wanted to continually shape the research field to do important and potentially impactful work.”

The other two recipients of the 2021 Neilsen Visionary Prize are Wesley Hamilton, whose nonprofit Disabled But Not Really (DBNR) Foundation focuses on fitness and nutrition, support for adaptive athletes and community service programs that highlight the underserved "disabled" community; and Alice Sheppard, an internationally recognized dancer, award-winning choreographer and founder of the disability arts ensemble Kinetic Light.

“That’s part of the wonderfulness of this prize,” Dr. Anderson-Erisman said. “There are a lot of people in the SCI community who are doing such amazing work.

“I didn’t do all of these things for the hope that someone would give me money,” she said. “I did them because it’s the right thing to do, it’s so needed in the SCI community.”

Dr. Anderson-Erisman was 17 years old when she sustained a spinal cord injury in a car accident. Her research has focused on translational investigations and bridging the gap between basic science, clinical science, and those living with spinal cord injury. And, it is informed with her own perspective of living with a spinal cord injury.

“It's not enough to just do research”, she said. “Is it really going to make any difference in someone’s life? That’s the perspective I come from and why I go against the grain. My drive has been that, in my lifetime, I want to make things better for other people with SCI.”

One such study is following veterans and civilians with SCI, and a family member or support person, in the first year after injury. The goal is to gain a better understanding of their experience — how they define recovery and success and the struggles they face. That study is a collaboration between researchers at MetroHealth, CWRU and the Veterans Affairs Northeast Ohio Health System.

Another study is looking into whether electrical stimulation is more effective than physical therapy in helping individuals with SCI gain use of their arms. Dr. Anderson, in collaboration with Dr. James Wilson, is leading the trial at the MetroHealth Rehabilitation Institute (MRI). Other participating centers include Houston, Toronto and Vancouver.

In addition to supporting MetroHealth’s SCI fellowship program for the past several years, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation has provided financial support to MetroHealth’s driver rehabilitation program. In 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation’s Emergency Relief Fund also helped MetroHealth address the needs of more than 200 people living with spinal cord injury at high risk for contracting COVID-19.

About The MetroHealth System

Founded in 1837, MetroHealth is leading the way to a healthier you and a healthier community through service, teaching, discovery, and teamwork. Cuyahoga County’s public, safety-net hospital system, MetroHealth meets people where they are, providing care through four hospitals, four emergency departments, and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites. Each day, our 8,000 employees focus on providing our community with equitable health care–through patient-focused research, access to care, and support services–that seeks to eradicate health disparities rooted in systematic barriers. For more information, visit