Our community is fortunate to be blessed with so many people who dedicate their time and talents to improve the lives of others. Luckily, there are people like Dr. Susan Harkema who landed at the University of Louisvilleâ€™s Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center and the Director of Research at Frazier Rehab Institute. She is also the director of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundationâ€™s Neurorecovery Network. A few weeks ago, Dr. Harkema and a team of volunteers lead the way to The Walk to Victory Over Paralysis event at Frazier Rehab, the first of its kind.
There was an overwhelming response from the community, who gathered to take their turn to walk on treadmills that ran continuously for 24 hours. Without a doubt, the first-time event was a success and helped set the stage for years to come.
Lori Kommor: Tell me about Frazier Rehab Institute and Neuroscience Institute and the work you do?
Dr. Susan Harkema: Frazier Rehab Institute, a part of KentuckyOne Health, provides therapy in acute care settings for inpatient and outpatient rehab needs. Informed by the research at the University of Louisville Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center, Frazier Rehab provides comprehensive rehab programs, highly skilled therapists, a state-of-the-art-facility and innovative therapeutic techniques that improve peopleâ€™s quality of life.
Frazier is a member of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Neurorecovery Network. Originated by the late Christopher Reeve, the Neurorecovery Network develops and expands access to activity-based therapies for people living with spinal cord injuries in order to improve their mobility, regain function and increase their independence in living.
Kommor: The Walk to Victory Over Paralysis was the first such event at Frazier Rehab and Neuroscience Institute and nationwide for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Neurorecovery Network. Can you share with me the overall response from the community and the importance to raising awareness for paralysis?
Dr. Harkema: This walk was all about helping people understand the importance of exercise after paralysis, and the community response was really overwhelming for our first event. We had over 100 people participate by walking on the treadmills, both former patients and people currently in rehab, and their family and friends. We kept a treadmill going at Frazier for the full 24 hours.
We were excited to have many organizations such as Jim Beam, Churchill Downs and Mellow Mushroom Middletown support the walk, as well as receive visits from the UofL Cardinal and numerous company mascots who joined in the fun as we raised awareness for spinal cord injuries.
Iâ€™m inspired every single day by the improvement our therapies make for people living with paralysis. Any improved capability an individual experiences after a spinal cord injury, from being able to be independent to remaining active in their community, represents a victory over paralysis.
The goal for Frazier Rehab and the Community Fitness and Wellness Facility was a total of $60,000. We were short of our goal, raising a third of the total, but there is still time to donate (visit: www.christopherreeve.org/Victory2014). Funds raised during the walk at Frazier will bring greater access to critical, activity-based therapies for more patients with spinal cord injury in the form of scholarships for those unable to afford it.
Kommor: What do you want others to know about people living with paralysis?
Dr. Harkema: There are over six million people in the United States living with some form of paralysis. This is an underserved population where an injury not only affects that person, but all those around them. Continuing to move the body after injury is essential to recovering as much mobility as possible, and thatâ€™s what people can get at our Frazier Rehab Community Fitness and Wellness facility. The facility is a place that welcomes not only those with spinal cord injuries, but any other type of disability. We have adaptive equipment which allows the user to easily get on and off without help, and we also offer one-on-one personal training sessions.
What we learn in research informs the clinical care and therapist-prescribed treatment in rehabilitation. We introduce consistency in the activities-based exercise that people should absolutely get after an injury to improve their overall quality of life.
Kommor: There are many people impacted with paralysis who would like to get involved. How can they support the work you do?
Dr. Harkema: We had a very successful walk and received support from rehab participants, individuals and businesses that made our 24-hour walk a true success. I was personally overwhelmed by the outpouring of support we experienced.
Our work with spinal cord injury continues beyond the 24-hour walk, though, as we continue to study how the spine behaves after injury. Every spinal cord injury is as unique as the person experiencing it. Our team of experts strives to understand that injury, and our labâ€™s proximity to clinical care makes those daily, incremental victories possible.
To learn more about the research-taking place at the University of Louisville Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center and the activities-based therapy available at Frazier Rehab Institute and Frazier Community Fitness and Wellness, go to www.victoryoverparalysis.org.