Pushing Boundaries (formerly Next Steps NW) has changed its name to better reflect its missions — to allow those living with paralysis an opportunity to push boundaries that have been forced upon them by spinal cord injuries, strokes or other neurological disorders; and to regain strength, independence and optimism.
The non-profit organization was co-founded in 2005 by Allan Northrup and his wife Sharon. Allan called the facility, at 4162 148th Ave. NE in Redmond, “a safety net for people with paralysis, who might otherwise be left feeling rather hopeless.”
He knows this from personal experience. Seven years ago, on Thanksgiving weekend, he suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident off I-90. He was flown to Harborview Medical Center for surgery and went through a long rehabilitation process just to learn how to transfer himself between his bed and a wheelchair.
Then Allan was told that was the best he could do, in terms of regaining movement. He became severely depressed, even feeling suicidal.
The Northrups’ daughter located a exercise facility in San Diego, devoted to the notion that stimulation of unused muscle groups — even in people with paralysis — could counteract the mental and physical devastation caused by being sedentary.
Complications can include weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory and digestive dysfunction, loss of bone density and emotional withdrawal. The Northrups moved to California to try it out.
“When we moved back to Bellevue, I was stronger, some of my independence had been gained back and I had new hope. I regained my feeling of self-worth,” said Allan.
He and Sharon filled two rooms of their house with specialized fitness gear and later leased the office space in Redmond to give others access to state-of-the-art exercise equipment and a team of committed exercise trainers. Pushing Boundaries is the only organization of its kind in the state of Washington.
NEVER TOO LATE
The staff at Pushing Boundaries tells clients that whether their injury is new or they’ve had it for years, it’s not too late to avoid or reverse “learned non-use” that leads to muscle atrophy and other health problems.
“Someday we hope for a cure, but when there is, only people who are strong and healthy will be candidates,” Allan explained. “We never want to turn a person away and we want to offer subsidies to all. Right now, about one-third of our clients get 50 percent subsidies to help them obtain the therapies they need.”
“Many are unable to work because of their paralysis. We would like to see coverage from insurance companies and be considered a part of preventive medicine. We can stay out of the hospital by doing this.”
Tricia Lazzar, managing director of Pushing Boundaries, described three specific programs at Pushing Boundaries: “Serving individuals with customized programs, three to four days a week, in two-hour sessions; developing support for caregivers; and going out into the community, to educational facilities and to let physical therapy students know about what we do.”
Lazzar emphasized, “The misconception is that once you’re paralyzed, you can’t get better. The Christopher Reeve Foundation started promoting the movement to change that.”
And she has seen living proof that where there’s a will to improve, there’s very often a way.
She talked about a 16-year-old client who was riding an all-terrain vehicle in Canada, fell and sustained a spinal cord injury. When Children’s Hospital referred him, “he had no movement in his legs, except intense spasms that would throw him out of his chair — and such serious blood pressure issues that he would pass out if he tried to stand up,” said Lazzar.
A little more than a year later, after diligently training at Pushing Boundaries, and through his determination, he stood on his own at a set of parallel bars.
A GROWING NEED
One or two people in Washington state sustain spinal cord injuries each day.
The youngest client at Pushing Boundaries is 13 years old and the oldest is 79. The largest sector of its clients are male, between the ages of 18 and 30, said Lazzar.
Originally serving people with strokes, traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries, the organization now has expanded to serve those with Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis or any degenerative illness that hinders mobility.
“Every person who rolls through our doors has their own issues, their own strengths and weaknesses,” said Lazzar.
New clients receive a two-hour assessment to measure their strength, balance and coordination and to pinpoint their goals.
“Some just want to be able to scratch their nose when it itches,” said Lazzar. “Some want to be able to sit in a regular chair at Thanksgiving dinner. After the small goals, you go to the next goal and then the next goal.”
The work is deeply rewarding and tears of joy are shed when a client achieves a goal, no matter how small, she said.
But it’s not just the people with paralysis who need assistance.
Said Lazzar, “For each person, a dozen more are affected every day — their spouses, children, parents, friends. They weren’t prepared for something like this. They can come here to share resources and communicate with people who understand.”
Sharon agreed, “Depression also happens to them. As someone who’s been there, I want to give information and hope, so there isn’t total despair.”
YOU CAN HELP
The community is invited to a Pushing Boundaries luncheon from noon-1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 6 at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue. The event is intended to raise awareness of programs to help people with paralysis and their caregivers and to raise money for the purchase of a $300,000 robotic exercise machine called a Lokomat.
The luncheon is free but donations will be gratefully accepted. To RSVP, contact Shawna Hanson, event/public relations coordinator at (425) 869-9506 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For other information, call (425) 869-9506 or visit www.pushing-boundaries.org.