How many times have you heard people say these words?
That's impossible. It will never happen. It can't be done. Never in a million years.
Some people dwell on what can't be while others have the vision to see what can be. In my previous blog I imparted to you my experience with a young boy affected by Spina Bifida in Bend, OR and how that led me to working with Hal Hargrave and the Be Perfect Foundation in Claremont, CA. We left off with the 2008 conversion of a Racquetball Court to help young Hal, who suffered a terrible auto accident that left him a quadriplegic. This story begins five years later when we opened the first Project Walk franchise in the world at The Claremont Club and began "Proving Them Wrong."
Before we go any further, it is important for you to know how devastating spinal cord injuries and other forms of paralysis are and how they affect the families who have a loved one who has gone through this. Most adults lose their jobs and can no longer work. In many cases they are forced to sell their homes and cars to help pay for their expenses and they often struggle with depression as they lose their purpose. When it affects a child, their parents always want to know if their daughter will have a love interest in their life. Will she be able to have children of her own? Who will take care of their son or daughter when they are no longer living? It is simply devastating. And in America, traditional care will only last for one year as follows: three days of acute care; up to 11 days of post-acute care; six months of transitional living care where a person is taught how to maneuver at home (things like brushing your teeth or using a glass of water, etc.) and up to one year of outpatient care. When that year is up, you are basically told to go home and learn to live in your chair.
Traditional medicine treats a spinal cord injured person above the level of their injury. So if someone is paralyzed from the neck down, they will be treated above the neck. At Project Walk Claremont we treat these individuals below the level of injury. We try to get the neurons and nerves in the brain to reconnect to the nerves below the level of injury by implementing a process called Active Nervous System Recruitment (ANSR), which incorporates constant muscle movement and exercising muscle memory with weight bearing exercise. Simply stated, it is activity based therapy. When you are in our studio you will not see any wheelchairs unless you look at those along the walls because we are teaching people to live outside of their wheelchairs as much as possible. We treat them like we were all treated when we came out of the womb: we lay them on the ground and see if they can roll; when they can roll, we teach them to crawl, then to kneel, then to sit, then to stand and in some cases to walk (as you will see in the video below).
On February 1, 2013 we opened the first Project Walk franchise in the world at our Club in a 3,000 square foot studio that had previously been leased out to a local hospital as a physical therapy annex. We opened the studio with 17 full-time spinal cord injured clients and in less than 1½ years added an additional 2,000 square feet for a total of 5,100 square feet. As of today we are working with 61 full-time spinal cord injured clients, including two with Parkinson's, two with Multiple Sclerosis, two who have suffered strokes and one living with ALS.
One of the clients you will see in this video is Jason Smoot. Jason was injured in 2010 and is a C4/C5 complete, which means he is paralyzed from the neck down. He can only move his power chair by blowing into a tube. One day while I was in the studio I had a conversation with Jason's father, who expressed how worried he was about Jason being very, very depressed. He had lost his purpose and his father worried that if he regained the use of his hands, he might try to take his own life. I went over to Jason and asked him if he would like to come to work at the Club. He immediately looked at me and said, "I can't do anything." I asked him if he could tell stories. He thought about it for a few seconds and replied, "yes, I think I can tell stories." So for the past year, for 1½ hours before his twice weekly sessions, Jason goes into one of our childcare centers and reads stories to 4, 5, 6 & 7 year old boys and girls. The kids love him and now their parents are coming in and thanking us, and it is always the same: my 5 year old son or my 6 year old daughter are learning about acceptance, empathy and tolerance and they are learning it from Jason. They are not learning it at school, but at The Claremont Club. Today Jason and Project Walk clients Stephanie Aielo, John Surina and Brandon Rayburn are all working at the Club, inspiring our staff, our members and our community and "Proving Them Wrong." Watch the video below and be inspired by what is possible.