NRN Spotlight: Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on October 05, 2016 # NeuroRecovery Network

Adventure and determination are in Rob Wudlick’s DNA. An avid outdoorsman, Wudlick sustained a spinal cord injury from a shallow water dive while guiding a month-long rafting trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 2011.

Like so many others living with spinal cord injury, Wudlick has learned the importance of advocacy.

Advocate for Community

Soon after his release from the hospital, Wudlick began participating in the Activity-Based Locomotor Exercise (ABLE)program at the Allina Health Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota, part of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network® (NRN).

“I immediately experienced improvements in blood pressure, mood, breathing, temperature regulation, skin condition, core strength, and overall health,” said Wudlick. “Five years after my injury, I continue to experience improvements in overall health, such as regaining the ability to functionally cough, and transitioning to being able to use a joystick. Currently, on strong days, I can raise my right hand to my mouth. There are also improvements in strength in my core and legs. Since starting ABLE, I have had reduced UTI’s and lower needs for medical interventions, which I attribute to my continued participation in this great NRN program.”

Since participating in ABLE, Wudlick has been able to go off medications for blood pressure, neuropathic pain, mental health, bone density and digestion. He is currently taking only one prescription.

With his improved physical health, Wudlick has been able to direct his attention toward helping others. In 2014, Wudlick co-founded Get Up Stand Up to Cure Paralysis (GUSU2Cure.org), a Minnesota-based non-profit focused on raising awareness and funding for research and adaptive fitness. Among GUSU2Cure’s accomplishments to date is the introduction and successful passage of the MN Spinal Cord & Brain Injury Research Grant Act (2015) through the Minnesota legislature.

“The program directs $500,000 annually from the state government to fund research grants working on traumatic brain and spinal cord injury research with specific language that states ‘research focused towards deliverable therapies for functional improvements,’” said Wudlick. “This is important, because it focuses research for physical functional recovery through medical advances and rehabilitative techniques.”

With his eye on a world in which paralysis from spinal cord injury is curable, Wudlick says he will work to continue to unite and educate our community to support and advocate for the restoration of function.

Advocate for Quality of Life

Developing an improved quality of life has also been a driving focus for Carol Suchy, an active wife and mother of two who came to the ABLE program after sustaining a spinal cord injury in a 2013 snowmobile accident.

“I set a personal goal to walk again and I knew my best chance for that was to get into the ABLE program,” said Suchy. “Within six months I started to notice muscle definition. By nine months, I was standing and walking with assistance. Now, two and a half years into the program, I can walk with a walker on my own and I continue to make improvements every day.”

Thanks to better overall health, Suchy has returned to an active life. She handcycles during the summer, uses a sports wheelchair to play tennis and began monoskiing for the first time during the 2015 winter.

“I couldn’t do any of it without the help of ABLE to get me to a healthy point in my life,” said Suchy. “I can do so much on my own now including drive my kids to their activities and working out on my own. I feel good about what I have accomplished and I enjoy serving as an inspiration to others at the NRN who can see what I’ve done and try to do the same or even better.”

Advocate for Insurance Coverage

With so many positive outcomes, it is difficult to understand why both Wudlick and Suchy have encountered problems with insurance.

“My overall health and wellness is relatively better compared with peers who haven’t participated in the NRN or similar adaptive fitness programs,” said Wudlick. “Sometimes I will physically plateau for a while, but there are still continuous gains. Insurance clearly wants to see improvements not maintenance in physical strengths, which occasionally has made me have to file appeals with insurance to continue participation in the NRN. I believe that participation in the ABLE program is worth the cost and is cheaper than not participating because of the positive health benefits.”

Initially, Suchy’s insurance wouldn’t cover her therapy. She had returned to work as a project manager after facing the decision to keep her job or go on Social Security.

“Because of the substantial cost, I felt like I had to choose between my health and well-being and supporting my children and family. I didn’t want the financial burden to impact my family any more than my injury already had.”

Thanks to the advocacy of so many others, she discovered in late 2015 that her insurance began covering 80 percent of her therapy after two years of denied coverage.

“It is a lot easier to pay 20 percent than 100 percent,” said Suchy. “I don’t understand why insurance companies don’t jump all over using the NRN, just to reduce the doctor visits, reduce or eliminate drugs, improve fitness and reduce sores from lack of activity, plus the mental benefits. Down the road, it certainly reduces the overall cost to the patient for health care. If anything, this program needs to grow faster. It needs the equipment, space and staff to reach the demand.”