Kendell, Meagan and Lindsay Hall are a gorgeous trio of sisters originally hailing from Dallas, Texas. The ladies sit in front of me at Project Walk Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center in Carlsbad with smiles on their faces, ready to be interviewed. Their happiness caught me off guard, to be honest.
You see, Kendell is wheelchair-bound, spending her days undergoing intense rehabilitation after a car accident that left her paralyzed from the neck down.
In the early morning of Nov. 1, 2009, Kendell was headed home in a friend’s car after attending a concert in Dallas. Just two exits from her home, the driver quickly sped up, lost control, fishtailed and hit the concrete divider. The next thing Kendell knew she was in the hospital. After 13 days in the intensive care unit, Kendell remembers waking up and her hands and arms didn’t work at all. “I felt completely frozen,” she recalled.
Kendell’s neck had snapped in the accident, leaving her paralyzed with a C 6-7 spinal cord injury that prevents the brain from communicating with the body below the level of the damaged vertebrae. Kendell spent the next 10 weeks in the hospital undergoing painful therapy all just to learn how to move her hands again.
Kendell’s family knew there had to be something more that could be done for her outside of the hospital where their insurance-funded visits would soon end. Research soon led them to Project Walk.
The alternate route
Project Walk is breaking all the rules and giving paralyzed individuals from around the world hope outside of the dim possibilities cited in traditional medical journals. The nonprofit organization, housed in a 15,000-square-foot space, offers intense exercise-based recovery programs for the wheelchair-bound.
“We have clients who range from 3 to 84 years old,” said Tim Yates, director of operations at Project Walk. “A spinal cord injury doesn’t care about age.”
Project Walk employs the Dardzinski Method, which uses rigorous exercise to target the nervous system and reactivate damaged nerves — essentially retraining the brain. The belief is that the nervous system could reorganize itself with the proper external stimulation. Project Walk uses no meds. Medicine traditionally prescribed to treat muscle spasms in spinal cord injury patients actually hinders what the Dardzinski Method relies on to stimulate the nervous system and eventually turn into controlled movement. According to the Project Walk website, if clients are able to move their legs, they have a chance of walking with the right stimulation.
The program has attracted some critics, but physical therapist Ryan Palkoner says that although Project Walk’s approach may be untraditional, it really can’t hurt.
“If patients aren’t walking (at the end of their therapy), then they are going to be healthier overall from the benefits of exercise, such as increased strength, range of motion and cardiovascular health,” said Palkoner, director of PRN Physical Therapy in El Cajon.
Clients must meet specific criteria to get into the program. For more information, visit www.projectwalk.org.
Let the therapy begin
Kendell has become close with the Project Walk staff of certified personal trainers, strength and conditioning specialists and athletic trainers since she arrived on March 29. Her regimen consists of three hours of exercise therapy four days a week, including load-bearing activity to help her develop strength in her legs. On video, Kendell is seen doing squats unassisted on the Total Gym incline trainer, especially suited for this type of physical therapy.
“This is where I’ve seen the most progress with controlled leg work; it’s amazing,” Kendell said.
Project Walk does not accept insurance, which means clients and the nonprofit organization must rely on fundraising to pay the $100 per hour for the Project Walk staff.
Nearly seven months later, Kendell is able to stand up on her own and is working on taking her first steps post-accident.
“You hear you’re paralyzed and you think the doctor knows everything, and then you come out here and slowly each muscle group is coming back,” Kendell said. “I see myself walking again someday.”
If you are interested in donating to Kendell’s rehabilitation, visit www.help-a-fwend.com. Project Walk cannot accept donations on behalf of a specific individual.
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