NRN Spotlight: The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on March 10, 2016

Everyone has a story, their own path and definition of success.

Here, three out of the hundreds of NeuroRecovery Network (NRN) participants share their stories of improved health, independence and quality of life, thanks to treatment at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

Shirley Guardiola: Dedicated to success

Recently retired from a 30-year career as a police officer, Shirley Guardiola was looking forward to enjoying time with her husband and three grown kids when an epidural abscess changed her plan. The pressure caused by the abscess, which grew on her spine, compressed her T6 vertebrae leaving her with no mobility from the mid-chest down and the prognosis of life in a wheelchair.

“All of a sudden, my entire world changed,” said Guardiola. “I became fully dependent on everyone. The whole situation was very overwhelming and truly mind-boggling. The logistics are as hard as the injury.”

The Ohio-native traveled to Michigan and Georgia in search of the best treatment options.

“I wanted to try to see if I could get better,” said Guardiola. While at the Shephard Center in Atlanta, a therapist suggested she might be a good candidate for the Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network (NRN) program. Weeks later, Guardiola started therapy at the NRN center at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, a daily five-hour round-trip drive from her home near Toledo.

“When I arrived in my wheelchair with slide board in-hand, one of the therapists said ‘we are going to get rid of that,’” recalled Guardiola. “The overwhelming attitude was ‘let’s do it!’ not ‘can you do it?’ The staff was relentless in their ideas and desire to help. They know there is a way to get results and they work tirelessly to find it.”

After 14 months of intensive NRN locomotor training five days a week followed by 10 months of additional therapy, Guardiola is now able to walk with the assistance of a walker and enjoy many benefits from a more independent life.

“I used to wonder if I could move, now I wonder how far I can go,” said Guardiola. “The NRN program gave me the tools to get where I am today. It was the whole package - mind, body and spirit. If I hadn’t been able to get into the program, my life would be very different.”

Guardiola continued, “My biggest wish is that there would be more NRN centers throughout the country so anyone who is willing and able to commit to the program has the opportunity to regain what they can.”

Brianna Walker: Remarkable results

Thanks to the OSU NRN, Brianna Walker’s recovery has been as fast and dramatic as her injury. Last year, a rare spinal cord stroke left her unable to move from the neck down with limited control of her head.The 32-year-old spent six weeks at in-patient rehab and left barely able to move one leg.

“I chose to come to OSU because of the NRN program,” said Walker. “I wanted intense therapy and it has been amazing.”

Only in the NRN program a couple months, Walker has made incredible progress. She started the program unable to stand, now she can walk.

“I’ve made astronomical progress since I started at the NRN and I’ve gained so much independence,” said Walker who was thrilled to regain abilities that most of us take for granted like dialing a phone or walking across the room to turn off a light.

As the center’s first NRN upper extremity intervention patient, Walker has also made tremendous gains in her torso and arm mobility and continues to work on hand and wrist function.

“I’m amazed at how much the focus on specific muscles has helped me improve,” said Walker. “I still have weakness but I’m getting a lot better, and a lot faster than I thought I would. It’s hard work but the amazing staff at OSU make everything more comfortable and fun.”

Adam Helbling: Mind over matter

For some, like Adam Helbling, the NRN program benefits were more mental than physical.

“I was very physical before,” said Adam Helbling who has bipolar disorder and came to the OSU NRN center in 2012 after sustaining a spinal cord injury in a car accident. “I thought I would never be happy without getting back on my feet. I was miserable and bitter.”

Although the 29-year-old saw some physical progress after 15 months in the program, he did not regain the ability to walk. His mindset, however, took a 180 degree change.

“For me, the mental battle was much harder than the physical challenge,” said Helbling. “The attitude and community offered by the NRN program was the greatest benefit I could ask for. Seeing others in the same situation and watching how they coped – smiling and living their life - I told myself that I didn’t want to be bitter anymore. The NRN snapped me out of my negativity. The experience turned around my attitude and my life.”

To celebrate his successes and raise awareness, Helbling has made a career out of sharing his story. He wrote a book, did a TED Talk and has had more than 150 speaking engagements including speaking to many school groups about mental health and life with disabilities.

“I feel like I have a purpose,” said Helbling. “I feel like I was given a second chance and I promised myself that I would never have a bad day. I’m happier now than I’ve ever been in my entire life.”

A former champion water skier, Helbling also teaches waterskiing and has set up clinics for adaptive waterskiing. In addition, he takes time to visit the OSU NRN program to help new patients get through the mental block that challenged him.

“I know what it is like to lose your mind and body,” said Helbling. “I’d much rather have my mind than my body. People with spinal cord injuries need to realize that the mind is much more powerful than the body.”

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.