A terrible accident, paralysis and years of recovery yield a top-of-the-line rehab center in WNY | Local News

Natalie Barnhard takes 10 minutes to get into the harness of a Hocoma Lokomat. Six straps are then tightened around her abdomen, hips, and upper legs. Then, she is able to secure her lower legs into orthotic braces. After that, she is lifted up so her toes are dangling a few inches above the moving treadmill below.

Two exercise physiologists spend the next few moments using computer software in order to lower her feet, stabilize her gait, and gradually add some weight and energy to her movements.

Barnhard walks for a few seconds after getting out of her wheelchair.

She can place one foot in front the other, supporting her bones, muscles, joints, and muscles. This was a position she took for granted before she was paralyzed in a workplace accident in 2004.

“Look how tall you are,”Kyle Johnson, exercise physiologist said as she paced on Tuesday afternoon.

Barnhard, who is 5’1″ tall, feels tall even in her wheelchair. Wednesday night saw the official opening of the Natalie Barnhard Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation and Recovery Center in Cheektowaga.



Natalie Barnhard, centre, founder and executive Director of the Natalie Barnhard Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation and Rehabilitation and Recovery, takes a Lokomat Pro Tuesday stroll in the Cheektowaga rehabKyle Johnson, left, and Melissa Conklin are helping to center with recovery specialists.



This milestone, more than a decade in the making, will give those in the region – and from hundreds of miles away – more tools to build mind, body and spirit after sustaining serious neurological damage from traumatic injuries and disease.

The Lokomat is the focal point in a setting that elevates the Buffalo Niagara region to a higher standard in such a setting rehab care.

“People don’t realize really how profound and important this center is for our community,”Barnhard stated. “Having this equipment and this type of rehabilitation, you don’t have to leave. There are only so many places like this throughout our country and most of them are in larger cities.”

Barnhard, then 24, was a licensed massage therapist and a physical therapy assistant. In 2004, a Cybex leg-extension machine weighing 608 pounds fell on her while she was helping a client stretch. The impact broke a disc in her lower cervical and severely damaged another below it, leaving her unable to move or feel in all areas of her body.

Quick work by specialists at Erie County Medical Center helped save her life before she moved to Atlanta in 2005 to be treated at the Shepherd Center, a hospital that specializes in traumatic injury rehabilitation.

She spent the majority of her ten years in Atlanta, where she could receive intensive, one-on-1 physical therapy at least three days per week.

“It took a while to get through my emotional devastation and grieve for my own loss,”She spoke. “Then, little by little, I felt God just gave me strength.”

Barnhard made headlines in 2012 when her lawsuit against the exercise machine’s manufacturer, Cybex International, and former employer, Amherst Orthopedic Physical Therapy, led to a jury award of $66.5 million. The final settlement reached by the three parties was $26 million. Legal appeals were closed.

She received a far lower sum based on estimated interest that would accrue to the lesser figure over a lifetime, minus legal fees, workers’ compensation reimbursement and other expenses.

Barnard stated that life-time care for someone with this type of injury can cost anywhere from $3 million to $5million. Muscle atrophy, skin atrophy, digestive problems, and waste elimination are all ongoing challenges. Also, it is difficult to sense body temperature and other forms of pain.

Natalie Barnhard, who suffered a severe spinal injury at work in 2004, has dedicated her life to helping others through her Wheels With Wings Foundation. She hopes to help build a local community. rehabFor people with such disabilities, center

Barnhard was able to pay for her own medical expenses and her own needs with the settlement. The financial loss was not worth it.

“From Day One,”She said, “I wanted just enough money to live my life, be OK medically, be able to afford caregivers and build a center for people like me.”

Barnhard started to envision a new life after she began rehabilitation. She created the Wheels With Wings Foundation to help families and individuals affected by spinal cord injury. She also established the Western New York chapter for United Spinal Association, and visits Washington, D.C. every year for the Roll on Capitol, where she advocates for the priority legislative priorities for the association.

“I couldn’t physically do what I did professionally anymore, and I just prayed for something else,”Barnhard stated. “I thought, ‘I don’t want to love what I used to do, I want to love something else. God didn’t take my passion. He molded it into something new.”

She spent time in Atlanta determined to get healthier, longing to be back home with her parents, three siblings and extended family, and making new connections with others who suffered similar tragedies.

“I had really great acute care,” she said, “and I did my traditional physical therapy, my occupational therapy, my outpatient treatment. But once insurance says you’What do you do if your therapy is being re-done? When they told me I was done with therapy, I couldn’t push my hair out of my face. I couldn’t eat by myself. A lot of people will go and find a place like the Shepherd Center at that point, but it’s expensive.”



Motion Project, the new spinal cord injury rehab center

Natalie Barnhard (left) and Peter Brady, a Motion Project Foundation board member, have used most of the equipment at The Natalie Barnhard Center For Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation and Recover. 



Barnhard returned to her home in 2015 with the intention of opening a rehabilitation center.

She had difficulty finding the specialized care she needed in Atlanta and began experiencing health problems. It became more common to get a urinary tract infection. She suffered from two episodes of pneumonia. One of these episodes, four years ago, led to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and nearly killed her.

“I was no longer socially around people living with an injury like mine,”She spoke. “I felt alone. All my friends and family were moving on, getting married, having kids. This was a big adjustment for me.”

Then came the pandemic. She was much healthier by last year and was well-acquainted with her limitations. rehabShe renamed the foundation Motion Project Foundation after her mother, and to better reflect its mission.

The new center can address spinal cord injury and cerebral palsy, traumatic head injuries, spina bifida spinal muscle atrophy, myelitis and amputation.

Barnhard spent more than $1,000,000 of her settlement money on the 6,000-square foot home rehabThe building that bears her surname. The center is located at 4820 Genesee St. between Transit Road and Buffalo Niagara International Airport. It is centrally situated in the region and easy for people from far away.

It includes the rehabWorkout area, massage room, treatment room, kitchen, offices, kitchen, and an all purpose room with an Infrared Sauna and enough space for adaptive Yoga classes and support group gatherings.

There are no curbs or stairs in the parking lot. Wide doors can be opened easily or automatically by wide openings. Contractors made windows in the walls that were closer to ground.



Motion Project, the new spinal cord injury rehab center

Natalie Barnhard and her Bichon Shih Tzu Louie have already become fixtures at the rehabRecovery center.



Bathrooms offer plenty of space. One of the options is a mattable for Barnhard, who needs a catheter and finds it more difficult to change clothes before or during a workout.

“I’m coming from a perspective of somebody who’s lived this versus somebody creating a space from just a clinical perspective,”She spoke. “I wanted to create a space where people feel like part of a family. You’re not just going to come and do your couple hours of exercise and leave. You’re going to make friends, going to have get-togethers and peer support activities.”

Toronto has a smaller version rehabBarnhard stated that the center is the Mount Sinai Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program in New York City.

A dedicated space will be made available to the 70 members of the regional chapter of the spinal association for the first time in the region.

Barnhard was presented by the national organization with the Finn Bullers Advocate Award in June for her association involvement and persistence in building the organization. rehabShe is the founder of the recovery center that bears her surname.

The late Bullers, a journalist, advocated better Medicare and Medicaid coverage for customized wheelchairs, ratification of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and working to adopt a more dynamic disability symbol through the Accessible Icon Project.



Motion Project, the new spinal cord injury rehab center

The Natalie Barnhard Center for Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation and Recovery features features more than a dozen pieces of equipment that bring limbs that don’t move into a state of weightlessness, focusing on joints and muscles that can move.



The rehabYou can also store kettle bells, full-body strength equipment, and treadmills. There are many options for straps, harnesses, bands and straps. A Kaiser machine can adjust weights as little as a half-pound. It can also make it possible to move forward for those with weak muscles. It is the only thing you should bolt down in the gym because there is no way to counterbalance it weight stack.

ZeroG Gait & Balance System allows users to harnessed to a track on the ceiling to walk or kneel along a 95 foot line on the floor shaped like a U.

Much of the equipment brings limbs that don’t move into a state of weightlessness, focuses on joints and muscles that can move, and takes other parts of the body along for the ride. Software measures the benefits and progress of the user over time.

“Recovery doesn’t mean you’re exactly the way you were before,”Barnhard stated, “but no matter what your situation still is, whatever limitations you have, it shouldn’t limit you from living your best life.”

Barnhard met Peter Brady in Orchard Park four years ago through Spinal Association. He is now a member on the Motion Project board. He has used several pieces equipment in the last few weeks.

Walking with support “is an unbelievable feeling”Brady, a 29-year-old paralyzed man who was paralyzed in a diving accident a decade ago, said that this provides an emotional and physical boost.

“You can’t just go to the Y,”He said. “That’s what really stinks.”



Motion Project, the new spinal cord injury rehab center

Peter Brady, 29, from Orchard Park is paralysed from the neck down following a diving accident 10 year ago. He takes a closer look to the Madonna ICARE. 



Brady needs to be cleared by a doctor to ensure that his bone density is sufficient to allow him to use the most advanced pieces at the center. Both undergo robot-assisted training to increase muscle strength, range in motion, and cardiovascular fitness.

The Madonna ICARE elliptical supports body weight, mimics gait pattern and includes a vibeplate that strengthens bone integrity.

Hocoma is a Swiss company that makes the Lokomat. It is the most expensive piece of jewelry in the world. rehab center arsenal. It was built at a cost of $600,000 and is the only one of its kind in the world.

“It’s a world-leading robotics device that will get either adults or children into the walking position,”Barnhard stated. “It’s interactive with games. It has recognition software, so it can detect in the movement where you’re strongest or weakest. It even has a module that instead of you walking very roboticlike, it will allow your hips to translate movement so it is a lot more like normal gait. We have their newest model.”

One rehabilitation therapist can operate both sophisticated devices with much less strain.

“I went to Shepherd Center in Atlanta,”Brady said. “This center doesn’t compare in size, but it does compare in the amount of awesome equipment.”



Motion Project, the new spinal cord injury rehab center

Kyle Johnson is a certified exercise physiologist and recovery specialist. He adjusts the Lokomat Pro machine to help those with paralysis or severe neurological disease walk. This machine strengthens muscles, bones and endurance.



Barnhard, now 41, is continuing to hold her PT assistant, and massage therapy licenses. She has hired three exercise physiologists – she calls them recovery specialists – all University at Buffalo graduates who have received extra training through the Shepherd Center. Mary Lynn, her mother, is the office manager. Lee, her father, is the maintenance supervisor.

To collaborate on education and research, the center has signed a memorandum of agreement with the UB Department of Rehabilitation Science. In the coming months, university interns are expected to begin serving and learning there. Barnhard established ties with Greater Buffalo Adaptive Sports, and hopes to do so with UB-affiliated specialists as well as regional hospitals.

“Buffalo is small enough that we shouldn’t really compete,”Barnhard stated. “It should be more of a collaboration.”

The Barnhards are also hoping to convince health insurance companies to pay for rehabilitation costs. It will charge $100 an hour and help as many people as it can who are unable pay.

Mary Lynn Barnhard stated that the Motion Project Foundation can help with costs through its Supplemental Grant Program. Other avenues are also available. Motionprojectny.org is available for those who are interested in supporting the center. You can also call 716-668 4724.

The Barnhards know the benefits of intensive rehab. Natalie Barnhard has made great strides over the years to learn how to cook, use her smartphone and brush her teeth. She cannot use a pen, grip a pot or pan, nor fasten a clasp.

“The makeup took over three years,”Her mother said it. “When she first did it, she poked yourself in the eye with mascara. Anybody with this kind of injury, they work. It is incredible. Some young men come in here that are in their 20s and they’re working out like they’re athletes, like they’re training for some major competition.”

Barnhard hopes one day to drive, own a house, get married – and walk.

“I want to be able to stand at my wedding,”She said, “whether it’s at the altar, or a dance. I really, really want to do that. That’s going to be something I work hard on.”

She plans to make her time more productive by creating a community where people can feel supported as they face similar challenges that can be far more difficult when faced alone.

“In the beginning, it’s very bumpy because you’re emotional,”Barnhard stated. “The mental aspect is really tough. Anybody will have their ups and downs, That’s natural. Progress tends to be slow. You don’t make huge gains overnight. But when you can look back and see how much you’ve gained, it’s incredible. And for somebody that goes from not being able to put their hand to their mouth or eat, and then can do it, that’s life-changing.”

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