Reeve Spotlight: Challenge Center

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on May 24, 2017 # Quality of Life

When a 1972 surgical accident left Bill Bodry paralyzed at the age of 27, he found himself facing a lifetime of limitations, secondary medical complications and no affordable rehabilitation alternatives that had proper medical oversight. Frustrated and determined, Bodry created the Challenge Center in San Diego, California, to provide post-acute rehabilitation programs and services to children, adults and seniors living with severe disabilities and their families.

“Mr. Bodry knew Christopher and Dana Reeve,” said Challenge Center executive director Tiffany Piquilloud. “I think we were one of the first to receive a Reeve Foundation Quality of Life Grant.”

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Challenge Center has more than 300 enrolled participants ranging in age from 2 to 102, completing more than 13,000 service hours a year. Over the years, the Center has received 10 Quality of Life grants from the Reeve Foundation, totaling more than $123,000.

The grants are primarily used to fund the Center’s Next Steps program which is designed to help individuals with spinal cord injuries or paralysis pursue goals to walk again, maximize functional independence and promote health, wellness and prevention of secondary co-morbidities to dramatically transform their quality of life.

“We have a unique model that combines physical therapy for the length of time needed to restore function and maximize independence with assisted fitness programs which have the expertise, state-of-the-art equipment, and assistance from specially trained personal trainers to ensure people with disabilities get a safe and effective workout,” said Piquilloud. “We rely on grants like the Reeve Foundation Quality of Life grants to offer scholarships for people who can’t afford the services they need.”

People who sustain a spinal cord injury are discharged from the hospital and outpatient physical therapy much sooner than in years past, and at a much lower functional level. Once their insurance-covered therapy ends, they are often left with no resources to continue to work toward their goals or to exercise to stay healthy.

Challenge Center sees people after their insurance runs out or those without insurance, for the length of time necessary, all on a sliding scale. With recent Reeve Foundation grant funds, Challenge Center was able to provide 12 physical therapy evaluations, 67 physical therapy intensive rehabilitation treatments and 116 Computerized Functional Electrical Stimulus (CFES) training sessions to low income clients who otherwise could not have afforded these services.

“Since we don’t rely on insurance coverage, we are not limited to medically necessary goals and reporting sufficient rate of progress,” said Piquilloud. “We can use quality of life goals instead, like learning to get dressed to go to a job and trying to become ambulatory again. With grant support, we can help more and more people, that is really the bottom line.”

Piquilloud can recount dozens of individuals who have benefited from the Reeve Foundation funding over the years.

“I think about Veronica, a mom with three daughters who was living with paralysis after a car accident,” said Piquilloud. “She came to the Center able to do some things but still could not take care of herself, much less her children. She really wanted to walk again.”

At home, Veronica’s children and mother-in-law had to help her with everything. She didn’t feel like a mother when her kids were taking care of her.

“During her time here, Veronica gained tremendous independence including the ability to transfer herself and stand,” said Piquilloud. “With this independence, she felt like she was back to being a mom again, packing lunches, driving to school and even sewing her daughters’ dresses.”

Another participant who benefited from a Reeve Foundation grant was James. Living with quadriplegia after a motocross accident at the age of 17, James was unable to do much for himself after a year of outpatient therapy. When he came to the Challenge Center, he was living with his parents and required 24-hour care.

“James had been told he wouldn’t get any better and it took us a while to convince him to accept our help,” said Piquilloud. “Cynical after previous disappointments, he told us his goal was to walk across the stage at his high school graduation which was only a couple months away.”

He posed quite a challenge but within 45 minutes of his first visit, he could move from sitting to standing by himself.

“It turns out he just hadn’t been taught the right techniques in his previous therapy. James worked hard and continued to progress quickly. When he received his diploma, it was the first time anyone at school had seen him walk. The whole school gave him a standing ovation. It was an amazing moment,” said Piquilloud who attending the graduation. “James is now living almost independently, going to college, and has a beautiful little girl.”

Challenge Center has recently begun a series of outcome studies to gather data on success rates. Preliminary results already show significant human and economic value with hospitalizations reduced by more than half.

“There are a lot of other people out there who need us and don’t know us,” said Piquilloud. “Our ultimate goal is to open additional Challenge Centers around the country to help even more people live the healthiest, happiest, most independent life they can.”