Spinal injury patients get aggressive therapy

Published: November 8, 2009  |  Source: freep.com
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20091108Center in Southfield is building a niche

With clients coming from as far away as Switzerland, and others traveling two to four hours for workouts, Erica Nader’s Southfield rehabilitation company is building a niche as one of the few businesses of its kind in the nation that specializes in more aggressive rehabilitation therapies for people with spinal cord injuries.

Walk the Line to SCI Recovery, started in 2007, offers services not widely available in the United States or abroad that encourage weight-bearing activities, including standing upright and walking to improve the health of people with spinal cord injuries.

Nader, 31, of Bloomfield Hills, brings her own experience and strong ideas about therapy to the business.

Paralyzed from mid-chest down in an auto accident in July 2001, she was the first American to undergo experimental stem cell surgery in March 2003 in Lisbon, Portugal.

Her story has drawn worldwide attention because so many people with spinal cord injuries, about 250,000 in the United States alone, want to follow the progress of people who undergo the surgery and aggressive rehabilitation programs that Nader and her Lisbon physician, Dr. Carlos Lima, say are important to maximize the benefits of the operation.

Rehab specialist oversees

Nader also hired Dr. Steve Hinderer, a leading rehabilitation medicine specialist at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, as her company’s medical director. He oversees patients’ progress and plans research into approaches for spinal cord therapy to answer lingering questions about the benefits of aggressive therapies for spinal cord patients. For some, there’s not enough proof yet.

Nader’s father, Fred, the firm’s treasurer, follows the field as closely as his daughter. The most recent research shows that the spinal cord “has intelligence of its own and has the ability to relearn neurologic function,” he said.

The center charges $375 for a 3-hour session. For now, insurance often does not pay for the therapy unless a person was injured in an auto accident in states like Michigan with no-fault coverage that pays for it.

The Naders — Erica’s mother, Rita, is the business’ vice president for administration — hope to hire at least one physical therapist to help with workouts so that more insurance companies will pay for the therapy. Now, insurance reimbursement often is limited to care delivered by physical therapists.

Walk the Line has used athletic trainers until now and needs more people with that training, too, as it builds its business in 6,000 square feet of new space — twice what it had at its cramped Ferndale site. It has 13 employees besides the Naders, who take no salary while the firm grows.

“We’re growing well,” Fred Nader said. “The company is on good solid financial grounds; we have a modest margin.”

The company moved in August to the Vanguard Building on West 10 Mile in Southfield. It is a bright, spacious site, with new quarters for the staff, more equipment and a long windowed corridor used by customers for gait-training and walking.

Two trainers work with each person to help with the workouts and ensure safety. Some customers walk with standing frames and braces. Others work themselves up to taking a step or two at a time.

Nader stresses the importance of writing short-, middle- and long-term goals for the therapy. “Most clients don’t know what to do when they get them,” she said. “They’ve always thought about walking. Walking is important. That’s on my long-term list. But in the meantime, you have to set short- and long-term goals not only to heal successfully but to take care of yourself.”

Nader continues daily aggressive workouts, which she credits with improvements in her balance, breathing and core strength.

Lionel Benzecon, 31, of Switzerland moved temporarily to metro Detroit in August to begin therapy at Walk the Line. He plans to stay for six months. He had stem cell surgery in Lisbon earlier this year. “My friends came before me,” he said. “They recommended it.” Benzecon said his legs feel stronger with the therapy.

Michael Johnson, 17, of Flint, who was injured in August 2005, also had surgery this summer in Lisbon and comes to Walk the Line three times a week.

“I definitely notice a difference in the tone in my legs,” he said.

BY PATRICIA ANSTETT
FREE PRESS MEDICAL WRITER

Walk the Line to SCI Recovery

What it is: A family owned business headed by a woman with a spinal cord injury that offers rehabilitation therapy for people with spinal cord injuries (SCI).
Location: Southfield.
Employees: 13, excluding the Nader family.
Job openings: For trainers and physical therapists.
More information: 248-827-1100; www.walkthelinetoscirecovery.com. Offers a free trial therapy session.