CURE NATION: Having a vested interest in the community is something that Cure Medical and Walk it Off Recovery Centre have in common. Both organizations were founded by those who understand disability the best – people who live with it every day.
Walk It Off Spinal Cord Recovery & Wellness Centre is located in Newmarket, Ontario and was founded by Heather Cairns-Mills. Heather’s husband, Kevin Mills, sustained a spinal cord injury in February of 2009.
Heather Cairns-Mills and Kevin Mills met in 2002. They both worked for Toronto Emergency Medical Services at the time and were part of a group of paramedics that started rock climbing indoors. As Heather tells it, “I became hooked on climbing and Kevin became hooked on me.” The couple married in 2007 and their son Evan arrived shortly thereafter.
GETTING OUT OF CUBA after spinal cord injury
Two years into their marriage, the couple traveled to Cuba to attend a wedding. They were enjoying the sand and sun when a rogue wave picked Kevin up and drove him head-first into the sand, causing a C5 spinal cord injury.
After many phone calls trying to organize transportation, the family was evacuated from their resort in a military cargo plane.
They were literally holding on to netting on either side of the plane for support while Kevin was strapped to a spinal board. “It was quite an adventure just trying to get him to a main hospital in Cuba then flying back to Ontario,” Heather says.
GETTING HOME for specialized care
After returning to Ontario, Kevin completed rehabilitation at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute – Lyndhurst Centre. Both Kevin and Heather wanted more progress after discharge and began the search for a rehabilitation centre.
“After we got back, he went through his rehabilitation and he gained a lot back but at the same time, the government-funded hospitals’ goal (which is a great goal) is to get you back to living in your home. Beyond that, there wasn’t too much involvement, so we found a place in Florida called Next Step Orlando,” Heather says.
With that in mind, the couple began fundraising to attend Next Step Orlando and Project Walk in California. For two years, they raised funds (privately through fundraisers) and travelled down to California for months off and on. Each time they returned to Ontario after therapy, they noticed a drastic improvement in Kevin.
Suddenly he was far more independent and felt much better about his recovery process.
“The gains he made were incredible, and the difference in the kind of therapy that we got down there was incredible as well. Full-body rehab with lots of hope. It wasn’t sterile and clinical – you weren’t cubed off into separate rooms,” Heather adds.
the care journey BEGINS Walk it off rehab centre
All of this sparked curiosity in Heather – what if there was a facility like Project Walk in Ontario? With this, she started to plan and fundraise to open a facility near home. Walk It Off Spinal Cord Recovery & Wellness Centre opened in Newmarket, Ontario in January of 2012.
With experience as both a medical professional and patient, Heather strives to provide a caring and empathetic environment at Walk It Off.
“With us both being in the medical profession, we saw what it was like to treat patients then all of a sudden we became the patients and we saw how much was needed and not available to this community,” she emphasizes.
WALK IT OFF assists people after traumatic injury or illness in Ontario
Walk It Off is a non-profit facility specializing in the treatment and continued rehabilitation of individuals with spinal cord injuries and other neurological disabilities. As Heather tells it, Walk It Off is “a clinic disguised as a gym.”
Their focus is to “stimulate the non-functioning areas of the body through core strengthening and repetitive, load-bearing exercises to promote recovery.” This allows clients to maintain muscle mass and bone density, which helps clients to complete other therapy programs and live more independent lives.
LEARNING THROUGH THEir shared EXPERIENCEs
Walk It Off is specifically designed to have an open floor plan so that clients can interact with one another and learn from one another. It gives clients an “organic experience to meet each other and share their stories, learn from each other as individuals with different disabilities.” This shared experience is extremely valuable to recovery for those with new injuries or diagnoses.
“Reading from a book or hearing from the doctor is not enough – you have to hear it from somebody who’s been through it,” Heather explains.
The name was chosen to be fun and give potential clients a sense of hope, which it certainly does. Walk It Off isn’t meant to imply that each client will walk away from therapy, but rather, that clients will see improvement in their function and independence. “Instead of [the name] being clinical, we wanted it to be on the fun, athletic side.”
SPECIFIC CONDITIONING options at walk it off
Goals for each client are based on their unique needs and wants for themselves. Walk it Off also develops programs aimed at improving cardiovascular fitness and helping athletes to train for ParaSport. Goals include things like transferring from the floor to chair, transferring independently, driving, and more.Walk It Off has worked with adaptive athletes from various sports including Sledge Hockey, Wheelchair Tennis, Wheelchair Curling, Handcycling, Nordic Skiing, and Kayaking. Some athletes come to them for training while others have had the opportunity to be introduced to sport through the staff and other clients of Walk It Off.
“We are very involved with finding para-activities in the community. We try to find out what’s going on so that our clients have more than just being able to live daily in their own home. What’s out there for them to do besides going to therapy specifically,” Heather adds.
WELL EQUIPPED for a variety of exercise needs
Walk It Off has a large variety of equipment, including The Madonna ICARE, an RT300 10 channel FES arm and leg bike, and a LiteGait suspended walking apparatus over a GaitKeeper treadmill. All funds raised through their fundraisers (Golf Tournament, Bonspiels, Scarf Auction), go to funding the equipment at Walk It Off and allow Walk It Off to update and replace equipment as needed. Though most clients are local, Walk It Off is conveniently located near two hotels with accessible rooms.
The Walk It Off team also dreams of opening an accessible gym for people with disabilities and possibly partnering with a commercial gym to open an inclusive facility in Newmarket.
FINDING COMMON GROUND with the Cure nation
Just like CURE NATION revolves around educating about catheter usage and life with a disability, Walk It Off remains engaged in the community and “are always educating about disability and ability so that people feel more comfortable and more aware of both the capabilities and some of the challenges people run into in daily life.”
“It’s refreshing to see that Cure Medical was started by somebody with a disability who knows first-hand what is needed for people, just as we started Walk It Off with the same thought,” Heather shares.
“It’s also refreshing to see a company donate so many resources back to the community, both in terms of donating to research and in terms of education through the blog,” she adds.
Learn more about the Cure Commitment to paralysis research here.
Founded by a quadriplegic, Cure Medical is the only catheter manufacturer in the world that donates the first 10% of its net income to support research programs in pursuit of a cure for urinary retention, paralysis, spinal cord injury and central nervous system disorders.
To request free samples of the Cure Catheter® or any Cure Medical catheter, contact your local distributor of quality healthcare products, or click here.
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