Reeve Spotlight: Frazier Community Fitness and Wellness Center

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on December 22, 2016

For Richard (Rich) Oelkers, it was a late-night slip down the stairs last May that changed his life forever. The 71-year-old got up to close windows during a storm and sustained a spinal cord injury from his fall. He was originally classified as an ASIA B at the time of injury, but has since been reclassified as an ASIA C incomplete after being in rehabilitation. After nine weeks of inpatient care at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, NJ, a friend of Oelkers’ daughter suggested he apply to the Frazier Rehab Institute, part of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation's NeuroRecovery Network located in Louisville, KY.

“Everything started waking up while I was at Kessler but I couldn’t walk or move my hands,” said Oelkers. “We knew I would need much more therapy so we moved to Kentucky a few months ago. Within a few weeks of starting at Frazier, I walked 200 steps down the hall with minimal assistance. This was a major breakthrough and there were a lot of tears of joy.”

Both Oelkers and his wife, Noreen (Norrie), said the dedication and professionalism they’ve seen at Frazier is beyond anything they could have hoped for. Rich participates at the NRN clinical center five days a week, and he also goes to the Frazier NRN community fitness and wellness facility three to four days a week.

“I go to the wellness center to warm up for my clinical therapy. The wellness center has helped me gain many quality of life skills like learning to get in and out of the car and transfer in the bathroom,” said Rich. “Between going to the two facilities, we don’t take too much time to rest. I need to re-learn everything and bring back recognition to my brain. I’m still waiting for my hands to wake up more but my legs are getting much stronger and better.”

In additional to the physical training, the Oelkers have been impressed with the NRN’s whole body health approach and the lessons they’ve learned about how to live with paralysis. The education is continual and matching the concepts to actuality is as mentally exhausting as is the physical demands.

“The care is top to bottom; it’s just extraordinary,” and Rich. “I am challenged every day, yet they are so encouraging. They tell you that you can do it and you have to believe. One day they’ll say, ‘ok, you are going to walk with a walker today with assistance,’ and you do it. It seems like every day one more person is up on the walker. They give you real hope you can believe in.”

Rich and Norrie are grateful for all those who have contributed their time, money and talents to help cure paralysis.

“What Christopher and Dana Reeve did for paralyzed people in the world is truly incredible,” said Norrie. “The amount of help the Reeve Foundation has given us through resources like articles and videos has been invaluable. The Foundation has been like a hand that reached out and pulled us out of a dark spot.”

Rich agrees, “It is not a death sentence to be in a wheelchair anymore. There is solid evidence that all this research is paying off. Everything at Frazier is so high-tech and there is no question that this therapy really does work.”

The Oelkers are also thankful for the ADA. “With so much accessibility these days, we’re not stopping,” said Norrie. “We go to dinner, the movies, even the state fair. We can have a good life.”

With so many positive results, Rich and Norrie plan to stay at Frazier as long as they can.

“We never expected Rich to be where he is today,” said Norrie. “Everything is done with love and humor. We thought it would be depressing but it is such a happy place. It is an emotional challenge but all the staff give you so much hope and positive reinforcement.”

Rich agrees, “It is tough and physical work and you need a tough mental discipline to do it. Without the staff giving you so much hope, I don’t think it is achievable. Every day something else starts moving on my body. It’s a miracle. It’s hope becoming a reality.”

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.