Nov. 26, 2003 Ball State University exercise science students are using an aggressive prescription exercise program to help a freshman overcome a devastating spinal injury.
Since enrolling in classes last August, Chrissy Parker has participated in the rehabilitation process originally designed for actor Christopher Reeve, famous for his role in “Superman” who was left paralyzed in 1995 after a fall from a horse. Parker, an 18-year-old from Anderson, participates in 90-minute exercise sessions three times a week. The sessions include stretching exercises, weight training and walking on a treadmill while suspended from a support harness.
“It is a lot of hard, difficult work,” said Parker, who has used a wheelchair since acquiring partial paralysis in 1999 as a result of a car accident. “I’ve seen improvement. I’ve been able to control my legs better.”
Parker’s exercises are based on studies suggesting that regeneration of the nervous system is possible. Scientists at Washington University in St. Louis developed Reeve’s program, which encourages patients to use their injured body parts to help recover lost function.
Parker began her initial therapy last spring at Washington University after learning about Reeve’s program. She continued it over the summer at St. John’s Medical Center in Anderson.
“Just before school started I got a call from St. John’s about continuing the program for an incoming student,” said Ron Davis, coordinator of Ball State’s adapted physical education program, who is leading Parker’s activity-based recovery project.
“I saw it as a tremendous opportunity,” he said. “Ball State students work with Chrissy, and they are getting a great experience. At the same time, this should help us learn more about servicing this type of spinal injury.”
The exercise approach is based on the theory that patterned neural activity might stimulate the central nervous system to become more functional, Davis said.
“We’ve seen Chrissy make remarkable progress since we started earlier in the semester,” he said. “She is very dedicated. It takes a lot of time and effort to go through the program on a regular basis.”
Davis is already planning to conduct a research project to learn more about a disabled person’s muscle loss and the impact spinal injury has on bone density in collaboration with the Human Performance and Biomechanics laboratories at Ball State.
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