10 Jul Spine-injured Athletes Moving Again after Intensive NFT Course
CONNECT, an intensive, month-long course at Iron Mountain Hot Springs is changing lives and providing hope to those with mobility-limiting spine injuries.
For six hours a day, six days per week for the entire month of June, a group of medical professionals, volunteers, college students and spine-injured participants gathered at Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs, Colorado as part of an aquatic-based learning program called CONNECT. The goal was to see if participants could measurably regain mobility using an innovative therapy called Neuroplastic Functional Training (NFT).
Developed by Lauren Maloney-Gepfert, founder of the Neuroplastic Functional Institute and the non-profit Healing Out Loud Institute; she is the only practitioner in the Roaring Fork Valley who utilizes NFT breakthrough mind-body science to rewire the brain for better health. In addition to helping participants regain movement, another top priority was training other therapists in Maloney-Gepfert’s techniques so they have the skills and ability to help others.
Iron Mountain Hot Springs was an ideal setting for the intensive training according to Diane Madigan, a registered nurse who participated in CONNECT. “The temperature of the water allows spine-injured participants to remain immersed comfortably for almost two hours,” Madigan said. “Temperature regulation can be a limiting factor for people with spinal cord injuries. Relaxing in this comfortable water means they can completely concentrate on connecting their brains to movement in their bodies without any discomfort or distraction.”
Deb Weidemann, a physical therapist who also participated explained, “When I finished school more than 20 years ago, I had been taught that people had 18 to 24 months after an injury to make a change. Throughout my career, I have found that not to be true, but I had no explanation for it.” After Maloney-Gepfert’s class, “I have observed mind-body connections being made in the pool that unless witnessed are not easy to understand. I’ve learned so much personally and professionally about myself and how the brain learns to heal. I know that I am changed by this experience in a way that will inform everything I do moving forward.”
For Adam Lavender who sustained a C4 incomplete (ASIA B) spinal cord injury in 2012 from a mountain biking accident, the improvement has been nothing short of miraculous. “I have made functional progress in the muscles in my legs and hips, and experienced increased trunk function. In the water with neuroplastic training, I’ve felt my legs pushing and pulling without assistance in a way that felt completely natural again. My mind is blown by the rapidity of the progress I’ve made in such a short period of time. Prior to this training, there hadn’t even been trace firing detectable in my lower body for the last six years since my spinal cord injury.”
Physical therapist Dave Weidemann was careful not to bring any pre-conceived notions or expectations to the program. He, along with the other medical providers assessed participants at the start and end of the month. “I watched an individual who was supposedly years beyond the window of opportunity for gaining function move his legs with control and reciprocal motion. He used muscles that had not worked this way for six years and were never supposed to work again. If I were not watching and experiencing this myself I would not believe it,” he said.
Ben Jenkins suffered an ischemic spinal stroke on May 10, 2015 that left him paralyzed. “I’ve gained more movement in my legs and strength in my core. I’m beginning the process of being able to walk in the pool. Prior to this program, I was aware of the benefits that this training was having on my friend Soren Lindholm,” Jenkins said. “A unique aspect of NFT is that it can be applied to many facets of your life, beyond regaining function. The program has challenged me to live more consciously and has educated me on how powerful the mind is and how I can use that power to help me in all aspects of my life. My goals remain the same: 1. You can recover, 2. The brain has tremendous capabilities following a traumatic event and 3. Love heals.”
Like Jenkins, Julie Stepniewski, a CONNECT team member, acknowledges the awesome power of the body and mind, as well as the spiritual side of healing. “The body is a whole being and you have to have balanced harmony in all three areas to have healing—body, mind and spirit. This class has given me the education to apply the physical techniques such as the spiritual love and truthfulness that are needed to get the brain connecting with the body.”
Student volunteer Emma-Leigh Feiler, an undergrad at the University of Connecticut studying psychology, found the course especially empowering. “Once I began learning about the science behind neuroplasticity, I was hooked. To learn neuroplastic techniques and see significant functional change in all participants is such a rare and validating experience. I am grateful to have learned these skills firsthand and cannot wait to apply NFT to my future endeavors as a mental health professional.”
Madigan believes NFT undoubtedly provides help to those with spinal cord injuries. “Watching these men running in the pool, all of them told that their legs would never move again, is really showing me that the sky’s the limit on healing,” she said. However she believes the benefits of NFT are valuable for everyone and that’s one of the many things she’ll be taking away from this class. “NFT is a tool that trains your brain how you want it to be, so it can help you design your life and your health, leaving unhealthy old patterns behind. Anyone can do this, and really, I think everyone should!”
Recognizing that people with serious impairment are underserved and often financially challenged, Maloney-Gepfert’s not-for-profit organization Healing Out Loud Institute (HOLI) provides solutions and healing for the spine-injured and their caregivers. Find out how you can support HOLI and get involved with this worthy cause.