Paralyzed Rancho patients stand and play golf

DOWNEY - Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe unveiled Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center's latest innovation Wednesday morning at an event for Rancho patients and staff at the Los Amigos Golf Course driving range. The Supervisor donated five "Paragolfer" advanced technology carts to the hospital. The "Paragolfer" is a three-wheeled cart that raises individuals with paralysis into a standing position so that they may play golf and participate in many other standing activities.

He was joined by Anthony Netto, the device's inventor, in leading a golf clinic for Rancho patients. This represented the first opportunity for most of the patients to experience the freedom of standing since they were injured.

Standing Therapy is a therapeutic and rehabilitative aid that helps improve circulation and respiration, reduces muscle spasticity, provides pressure relief and aids digestion. Standing also helps to minimize the occurrence of the pressure sores and bowel and bladder issues that are common in individuals who are confined to wheelchairs.

The first patient to try the "Paragolfer" cart was Rancho artist Cassandra Tang. As the device lifted her to her feet, a huge smile broke out across her face.

"I haven't been able to stand freely since I was injured 19 years ago, and now look at me!" she exclaimed. She thanked the Supervisor, and asked him for a hug. After he complied, she said, "Thank you for letting me stand again, for being able to hug someone standing up, and for loving all of us so much."

A single tear rolled down her cheek and there were moist eyes all around the driving range as the audience shared the joy and wonder Cassandra was experiencing.

Anthony then showed her how to hit a golf ball from the standing position. She connected solidly the first time she swung the seven iron he placed in her hand. This scene was repeated again and again for the next hour as nearly a dozen patients took their turns with the four Paragolfer machines lined up on the driving range. "Once we are able to get someone standing, then there is no limit for what they can do," he said.

"Watching the looks on the faces of our patients as they strapped in and began to rise, we saw just how much being able to stand again means to everyone who is confined to a wheelchair," Supervisor Knabe said.

Rancho patient Charlie Uribe said he was surprised how easy it was to stand and hit the golf balls with the Paragolfer unit. "When I first heard about it, I couldn't really grasp what they were talking about. But now that I have experienced it myself, I can't wait to do it again. It felt so natural to be standing again. I wish I could do it every day!"

Rancho Wheelchair Sports athlete Tylor Vickers also participated. "Wow! This feels awesome!" he said. He adapted very quickly to hitting the golf ball from a standing position, making solid contact time after time as the golf ball sailed straight down the driving range.

"This is just another way we are making the latest in technology and patient-centered care available to our patients," said Rancho CEO Jorge Orozco. "We are profoundly thankful for everything Supervisor Knabe does to help Rancho assist our patients to rebuild their lives. He is truly our number one supporter, and continues to amaze us with the depth of his commitment to caring for our patients."

"Being able to stand up not only boosts self-esteem, but also enhances one's quality of life through sports and recreation," Anthony said. The nonprofit organization Anthony founded, the Stand Up and Play Foundation, gives wheelchair-bound people the chance to stand up again, to experience the empowerment of looking someone in the eye and to experience the freedom to play sports and participate in other meaningful activities.

Rancho Patient Advocate Gilbert Salinas, himself a former Rancho patient whose spinal cord injury restricts him to a wheelchair, said "Today was a day filled with inspiration. For those of us who live with disabilities and are confined to wheelchairs, we will now be able to stand and look people face to face.

"To swing that club and hear the crack when it hits the ball was very exciting for all of us," he said. "Today also shows how innovative Rancho can be and how we continue to think up new and exciting ways to provide better care for our patients." "Rancho is a place where miracles happen each and every day, Supervisor Knabe said. "Now we have a powerful new way for our patients to stand up and build their own bridges to more independent lives."

For Cassandra, Charlie, Tylor and the other Rancho patients who participated in Wednesday's golf clinic, seeing how their lives could change for the better was apparent in a matter of seconds. One can only imagine what they will accomplish now that Rancho and Supervisor Knabe have given them an exciting new way to literally stand up for themselves.

********** Published: July 19, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 14