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New Recovery Center opens for those with spinal injuries

A man working on the Giger MD
The Natalie Barnhard Center for Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation and Recovery
The Giger MD hybrid allows for active simultaneous and coordinated movements of both upper and lower extremities.

University at Buffalo students and a new rehabilitation center near Buffalo Niagara International Airport are combining to provide better care for people with spinal cord injuries.

With the opening of the Natalie Barnhard Center for Spinal Cord Rehabilitation and Recovery, students from the university's Department of Rehabilitation Science in the School of Public Health and Health Professions are getting a better understanding of what good care and great facilities can do in improving life for those with catastrophic injuries.

"We sadly have to say that insurance will not cover in-patient or out-patient rehabilitation very long," said Rehabilitation Science Chair Sue Ann Sisto. "The person themselves, with the injury, is still recovering, yet they're discharged because insurance will no longer cover their care."

She said it's a wonderful facility for treatment and for education.

"They're even more impacted because they say nowhere where I have been to work with patients, even spinal cord injury individuals, I have never seen a center like this before," Sisto said. "This is fantastic and it's the only one within, I think, 300 miles to serve people with these kinds of injuries."

Barnhard herself has been in a wheelchair since 2004, when she was working as a physical therapist and a 600-pound exercise machine fell on her. She created the Motion Project which eventually built the Natalie Barnhard Center, a colorful, light-filled place for those with these injuries, who better understand new treatment methods and medical understanding of how to lead to a better life, even sports participation like football or rugby.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.