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Detroit Free Press: After accident, man turns his intense rehab into a business opportunity

By: JC Reindl


Charlie Parkhill of Bloomfield Hills is proud to run one of the most physically intensive training businesses in Michigan.


He is cofounder of The Recovery Project, a rehabilitation gym in Livonia and Macomb Township that helps people with severe neurological injuries or diseases regain basic abilities. The gym specializes in intense one-on-one training for clients to achieve results.


“Some of them can handle it, and some of them can’t,” Parkhill, 59, said matter-of-factly. “Our goal is to give everybody who comes through this door the greatest quality of life they could potentially have.”


Many of his clients survived serious auto accidents and are able to afford months or years of one-on-one therapy due to the unlimited medical and rehabilitation benefits available to auto crash victims under Michigan’s no-fault insurance law.


Parkhill has become a walking endorsement for the aggressive rehab his business offers.


He suffered a freak spinal cord injury in 1998 when he was swimming during a Mexico vacation and a wave threw him onto his neck. The injury initially left him paralyzed below the neck. For months doctors assumed he had lost the use of his limbs.


But with help from his therapist at the Detroit Medical Center, Polly Swingle, and her unique rehabilitation regimen, Parkhill gradually regained feeling and movement in his legs and arms.


In 2003, he and Swingle founded The Recovery Project to help those with severe neurological problems by using intensive rehabilitation. Swingle directs the therapists and Parkhill, an accountant, handles the financials. They are co-CEOs of the business.


While Parkhill still gets around mostly by motorized wheelchair, he is able to walk as far as 100 feet com- pletely unassisted.


“Our goal is to give everybody who comes through this door the greatest quality of life they could potentially have, and that may only be able to use this joystick,” he said, nudging his scooter controls.


The Recovery Project opened with about 20 clients at its first location in the Livonia Family YMCA. It has about 270 clients now and rents much larger space inside an office building on Victor Parkway with a smaller, stand-alone location in Macomb Township on Hall Road.


There are 36 people on staff, mostly therapists and trainers.


Parkhill said that many private insurance policies in the state will cover his rehab. The business accepts Medicare and hopes to become licensed soon for Medicaid. Clients who finish with intensive rehab are encouraged to visit the gym and use its equipment for a $25 monthly fee.


“I’ve been working out six days a week for 15 years and if I stop for a few weeks, I’d lose it,” Parkhill said.