How Much is One Step ?!

Story about MacWheelers Gym, last affordable place for gait supported walking exercises in Southern Ontario for many Spinal Cord Injured people or MS impaired victims is shutting down its door of opportunity with up to 10 times higher fee’s than in previous years. MacWheelers Gym became overnight non-affordable / non-accessible place.

About MacWheelers Gym
For people who don’t know much about MacWheelers Gym – If we start from beginning, this place was first created as research “lab” for Kinesiology department and when participants asked to stay and exercise on regular basis, McMaster University had decided to make a Gym for people suffering from SCI and MS as a place to exercise and pay just regular gym membership fee as any able body people in regular gym.
This unique idea brought volunteers, mostly Kinesiology student’s who are helping us and learn through this process preparing at that way for their future profession, made this Gym successfully functioning for the last 15 years helping so many people.
This gym was also built with help of lot of people, companies, organizations, number of fundraising and grants for purchases all specialized equipment and some of the most advanced equipment for gait support training.
For daily operations MacWheelers is managed with help of few staff members, usually more experience students, that are paid minimum wage for their effort.
This place parallel function as Kinesiology department research facility so University from beginning granted it’s space, and also with paid equipment (!),
volunteer’s, minimum staff wages, and 96 active members (x $50 monthly membership fee~ $ 60,000 yearly) MacWheelers Gym should be able to operate as self
sustain facility even after paying staff salaries, maintenance etc.
     However, with all of promising points to run this joint successfully, apparently after years of financial mismanagement, with some added administrative fee’s
 and salaries of people (possibly not needed) to run this place, the gym slipped in deep hole beyond accounting repair with debt of approximately $ 250,000 of debt
(or more as they said) and according to management of Pace program which is organizational and administrative “motherboard ship” for MacWheelers Gym,
the way out of trouble this management see only in increased membership fee’s that would charge 10x more for progressive walking exercises.
As far as I know so far, from 16 patrons of this Gym who were using gait training, half of them already dropped from the gym unable to pay draconian and non-accessible fee’s of up to $ 700 monthly and other half reduced their walking exercises to minimum, already killing envisioned contribution for Gym financial recovery from that source.
In Pace management vision for financial recovery, they have never proposed relaxing administrative ballast or to increase membership base for the Gym and number
of operational hours [Gym is open only 15 hours per week(!)] to allow other people with mobility impairments to come and use benefits of this place.

My Story

I am member of MacWheelers Gym @ McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario for more than 5 years. My previous post about “MacWheelers Dream Gym” jinxed the whole sugar-coated story about this gzm. With new fees, instead of payment of $ 75.00 for previous monthly membership, now, for exactly the same thing  -2 walks per week (x 40 min) on gait supported treadmill I should cash $ 600 per month!!!
With a help of MacWheelers staff, I have carefully tailored my exercise program and after last couple of years of hard work and continuous exercises that includes 2 walk per week on treadmill,
I have finally start to show improvements with my health and mobility. As a matter a fact, last 12 months I was witness of huge success for me after previous 12 years since my injury,  12 long years with almost no any change.
For example, I have dropped down weight support on treadmill from 75 kgs to 10 kgs in last 12 months and also I have improved my stability, core, my transfers, etc. Sensitivity, bladder and bowel control are also two-fold increased in this period. (Btw – My spinal cord injury is C6 Incomplete Asia B/C)

I am pretty sure I was able to achieve all of this only by increasing frequency and intensity of my walking sessions from once to twice weekly and by increasing number of minutes per session from 25 to 40 in the last year.
My idea is to increase level of my workout to 3 walks per week to see if this improvement trend will continue, start slow independent slow walk (I can move my lags from my hips) and eventually start to exercise with ZeroG.

After new fee’s were proposed, I have contacted Pace program Management with
question what to do to preserve my exercise level.
Their answer was basically – to pay.
Oh, btw, they congratulate me on my success!!

They are directing me to find sponsor or try to cover through insurance.
In other words, I should be wheeling around begging for sponsorship.

Insurance company needs confirmation and prescription from doctor that
exercises will help me to recover.
Doctor’s shrugs their shoulders for they believe in an age old health care policy that condemns chronic spinal cord injuries to a crippled life that can not  possibly recover.
So many researcher’s (even from McMaster University) and some live examples tells different story for incomplete injuries.
From my experience, I was witnessing fantastic progress of few people who worked really hard.  They have live examples from MacWheelers Gym of people walking out of the wheelchair after working very hard and with help of special equipment and volunteers.
Dave-MacWheelersAn example of this can be seen in 80 years old member Mr. Dave Cook (former MP) who dismiss concerns of his Doctor specialist that tried to discourage and frighten him with “what if you fall and break a hip”, and regardless of that he kept working hard till he start to get up and walk with
less and less ZeroG machine help !
This Gym, for the most of us, is not only exercise joint but social, health, equipment etc lifeline portal and with new “no-wealth-no-exercise”
policy is making it non-affordable and non-accessible for the most of us and will kill great idea of equality for handicap people.

Few members were trying to move things by writing public petition and meeting with management but no any changes regarding gait exercise high fee’s are considered.

* * *

And finally, the whole story about this unique and inspirational place that is settled in thick Hamilton’s fog and painted with colors from spectrum of mismanagement, University bail-outs, schizophrenic nature of little-bit-gym-little-bit-research-program, hundreds of thousands of dollars of grants to joint accounts, fund-raising efforts from the last century (yes, bring empty beer bottles…), scares from insurance companies “what if something happen and somebody sue you”,  is not really getting any more clear with new “commercial” vision at all.

To preserve classical capitalistic supply & demand scheme even here, management will rather see this advanced equipment collect dust than allow members to use it for regular membership fee – as it was the case for last 15 years.
People who are progressing very slowly due to nature of their injury or health state will be stranded with no access to walking gait supported machines that can help them.
Parody of this situation is when staff members come to position to explain to young students about special equipment on the floor, they would need to jump on Zero-G, Locomat or Gait trainers by themselves and people in wheelchair will be only able to watch.



WALK is possible

How others see standing and continuous walking exercise can help mobility impaired / spinal cord injured people.
In China’s center Kunming for decades they are practicing walking program that last at least 6 months, with 6 hours a day, 6 days a week and they have fantastic results when many people walking out of wheelchair and be independent.

Kunming walking video

In Germany they are using gait training combining with new technology – robotic legs at least 5 hours a day, 5 days a week also for at least 6 months to create some totally “unexpected” results – unexpected for this health care system that is actually promoting big dependability business.

Neurologic-Controlled Exoskeletal Neuro-Rehibilitation by Thomas Schildhauer, MD