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Giving 'thanks' for walking again

Updated: 11/27/2013 5:53 PM
Created: 11/27/2013 5:36 PM WNYT.com
By: Benita Zahn

This Thanksgiving is one of great meaning for Jim Nolan.

Nolan is a married father of two and teaches business at Siena College, but that's just the start of his story.

There was a time when Nolan could run a mile in six-and-a-half minutes, but these tentative steps are as, if not more, fulfilling.

“It's wonderful because you're fatigued, you're covered with sweat, and then you walk,” says Nolan.

This short stroll, is the priceless payoff for an exhausting, hour-long session of physical therapy.

Three times a week, Nolan travels from his Greenwich home to Sunnyview Hospital in Schenectady where he dons a harness and is attached to a specialized contraption called the TheraStride. The harness supports some of his body weight as he goes through his paces.

“I never thought I'd be this coordinated again,” he says.

Nolan began this therapy in June making him the first patient at Sunnyview to use this new equipment. However, his story of injury and recovery begins in August 2010.

While bike riding, Nolan missed a turn on a bike path; flipped over the handle bars and down a 16-foot deep ravine.

He suffered a neck fracture and severely injured his spine. He was, what medicine calls, an incomplete quadriplegic.

“Right after my injury I couldn't move my arms or legs, and then I had some movement. Then my hope after a month was maybe someday I could be able to walk with a walker. At that time, I couldn't move my hands, he says.

His initial therapy got him to the point of being able to use a walker to get around.

“I was told that after two years I wouldn't be able to get any more back and now I'm three plus years and I'm still getting more back,” says Nolan.

“He went from using a power wheelchair and a walker to now using crutches and walking much more than he did before started the program,” said Patti Valena, a Physical Therapist at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital.

The program, which Valenza and Ann McCarroll, another physical therapist learned, is a kind of circuit training. Five minutes of movement followed by three minutes of balance therapy with no break.

It's called “locomotor training”, developed by the Neuro Recovery Network, funded by the Christopher Reeve Foundation.

“This is not just doing things for my muscles, but it's helping the brain relearn how to send the right signals,” says Nolan. So even when he's marching in place, he's making progress.

Following the therapy session, there's a sort of afterglow and he can walk on his own for a short time.

Nolan is determined to extend that window so he can enjoy a favorite pastime - cooking. He calls eggplant parmesan his "signature dish".

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