Wednesday, June 22, 2005
OU instructor revolutionizes spinal cord recovery
By Rebecca Wyatt, OU Web Writer
An OU instructor, OU alumna and a small group of physical therapy students are part of a groundbreaking physical therapy technique that is helping those with spinal cord injuries, head injuries and neurological diseases regain function and improve their lives.
Physical therapist and OU instructor Polly Swingle met Charlie Parkhill under what could be considered terrible circumstances.
“I first met Charlie seven years ago when he suffered a spinal cord injury while vacationing in Mexico and became a quadriplegic,” said Swingle, but a chance pairing of Swingle and Parkhill led to The Recovery Project, a venture that could help thousands of people with severe injuries
As Parkhill’s physical therapist, Swingle thought he could benefit from more intense physical therapy. Parkhill and Swingle began spending two to three hours a day on physical therapy instead of just an hour, and Parkhill made progress, even walking up to 150-200 feet with the aid of crutches.
Motivated by Parkhill’s success with intense physical therapy, the pair decided to use the technique to help others. Swingle and Parkhill started The Recovery Project using her physical therapy expertise and his business knowledge. The Recovery Project has grown from one physical therapist at one location to six full-time physical therapists at two locations, one at the YMCA in Livonia and the other at Crosstrainers Fitness in Clinton Township.
Swingle, who often instructs OU students about spinal cord and head injury treatment, has inspired OU students to get involved with The Recovery Project.
As an OU student, Carey Chaker, MPT ’01, met Swingle who was serving as her clinical instructor.
“Spinal cord injuries were my main interest as a physical therapist, so when I heard she opened up this company, I contacted her for details, and two months later, I decided to work for The Recovery Project,” Chaker said.
Second year physical therapy student Erica Wecker is on the seventh week of her eight-week clinical affiliation and will stay with The Recovery Project as a physical therapy technician for the summer.
“I chose to work with them because I love what we do there, and I love the company. They allow me to use my creativity in productive ways. It opens the door for new opportunities in physical therapy as well as unique experiences working with patients that have neurological injuries,” Wecker said.
The Recovery Project is not only unique because of the high-intensity of the program but also because it promotes lifelong fitness. Swingle said many insurance companies do not pay for patients to continue therapy after a certain length of time, but The Recovery Project believes continued therapy and exercise are important. It keeps the muscles moving and keeps up the morale of the patient.
“At The Recovery Project, people with spinal cord injuries are recovering much more than even doctors thought they would,” Swingle said. “People go to physical therapy and when they are done, they are done. There isn’t an environment where they can just go workout. We give them a place to workout and continue to move forward.”
Since many insurance companies don’t support long-term physical therapy, The Recovery Project is organizing a scholarship program for patients to help cover the costs of rehabilitation services. Swingle hopes to have the scholarship program available in the beginning of 2006.
The Recovery Project also hopes to establish a database with research to prove their findings and success with the intensive physical therapy process.
“I would like to do research studies to demonstrate to insurance companies that lifelong fitness and exercise are key to optimal living so maybe guidelines may eventually change and clients will be allowed to get the therapy they deserve without having to pay out-of-pocket,” Chaker said.
While The Recovery Project hopes for a cure for paralysis, the mission of the company is to help those with severe injuries “rehabilitate, recover and stay fit.”
“As a physical therapist, you really change people’s lives because they’ve really had a devastating injury,” Swingle said. “It’s a really long process, but it’s really rewarding.”
For more information, visit The Recovery Project Web site.