For Natalie Barnhard and her dream of a gym for people with spinal cord injury, the right puzzle pieces–including expertise from Department of Rehabilitation Science Chair Sue Ann Sisto, PT, MA, PhD, FACRM–fell into place at the right time.
The Natalie Barnhard Center for Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation and Recovery opened in Buffalo this fall, welcoming clients who would otherwise have to travel hundreds of miles to find a similar place to work out and bond with others with spinal cord injuries.
Soon, UB physical and occupational therapy students will prepare there for their clinical experiences, learning to work with state-of-the-art equipment available thanks to a partnership forged between Barnhard’s Motion Project Foundation and SPHHP’s Department of Rehabilitation Science.
Barnhard suffered a spinal cord injury in 2004 that left her paralyzed. The Motion Project became a personal goal early on in her rehabilitation from the injury, as she experienced the challenge of obtaining critical services such as intense rehabilitation therapy, acquiring home modifications and other equipment.
A key piece of the puzzle was the 2018 arrival at UB of Sisto as department chair. Sisto has spent several decades as a clinician caring for people with spinal cord injury and studying spinal cord injury rehabilitation and immediately recognized the importance of the project.
The partnership with UB involves research and education. On the research front, Sisto plans to work with Barnhard and the center to create a database containing the benefits of health and wellness programming for people with spinal cord injury. Such a database could lead to much-needed health care policy changes for the spinal cord injury community.
Sisto also plans to partner with colleagues from her department’s Center for Assistive Technology, and researchers from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, to conduct studies on robotic devices and intervention outcomes with some of the center’s cutting-edge equipment.
As well, students in the Occupational and Physical Therapy programs will do internships and fieldwork at the Motion Project soon.
“When students come and see a top-notch center like this, they develop a standard in their minds during their professional training in physical and occupational therapy as they begin to learn about spinal cord injury rehabilitation and the impact of injury on every day life,” Sisto said. “It’s really going to raise their standards of what a clinic should look like, what equipment should be available to their patients and what they should know of spinal cord injury rehabilitation.”
For instance, among the Motion Project’s signature pieces of equipment is the Lokomat, a treadmill-like robotic rehabilitation device to help clients improve their ability to walk. Fourth-year OT student Sydney Szwarcberg, who recently visited the Barnhard Center, was impressed: “I had never even heard of it before today!”