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Macomb Daily: Aggressive neurological rehab born out of a catastrophic accident

By: Gina Joseph


There’s hope for a cure for paralysis.


Some American researchers believe epidural stimulation has the potential to be a quantum leap forward for the millions living with spinal cord injury (SCI). Whereas French researchers are confident in the ‘cyborg’ implant, a thin ribbon embedded with electrodes that lies along the spinal cord and delivers electrical impulses and drugs. For now there is The Recovery Project in Clinton Township and Livonia.


The high-intensity physical and occupational therapy clinic is for people with SCI, traumatic brain injuries, neuromuscular disorders such as MS, ALS and Parkinson’s and other moderate to severe conditions. While researchers seek the remedy, SCI patients at The Recovery Project will pursue increased physical functionality and fitness.


“We’re not going to get cured by coming here but we can achieve the highest quality of life possible. Whether that’s getting married and having children, returning to work or going back to school,” said Charlie Parkhill, a SCI patient and co-owner of The Recovery Project, which was born out of a catastrophic accident that left Parkhill paralyzed from the neck down.


“I was on vacation in Mexico,” said Parkhill, who had just finished showing a guest the state-of-the-art equipment used by clients including his electric wheelchair.


Wearing a black and red jogging suit and looking very fit, Parkhill continued with his story of survival. “I had gone for a swim and was walking on the beach when I saw a wave coming and ducked,” he said.


That’s when the wave hit. It swept Parkhill off his feet and slammed his head into the sand with such force that he couldn’t move. He was airlifted to a hospital in Texas where he learned that he had suffered a C4-5 incomplete spinal cord injury.


After several surgeries, Parkhill was assigned to a physical therapist to help him regain some movement in his upper body. However, some mobility was not enough for the then, 43-year-old Parkhill.


“I was stubborn and determined not to let this affect my life. I told myself, ‘I’m going to do what I want to do,’” he said.


That’s when a senior therapist at the facility decided to step in.


Polly Swingle, who earned her degree in physical therapy from Ohio University and had extensive clinical and administrative experience specializing in rehabilitation with SCI, TBI and other neurological diseases, was impressed and inspired by Parkhill’s determination. There is no protocol for therapy beyond a year, but Parkhill kept coming back for more. Seeing this was someone who would unconditionally put himself in her hands if she could stretch the envelope, Swingle decided to take him on.


Day after day, they forged ahead using the rehabilitation equipment on hand. When it no longer sufficed, Swingle would modify the equipment to make it work for a new program including a treadmill that helped Parkhill take his first three unassisted steps.


Now he can take 100 steps, and the program and environment Swingle designed for his rehabilitation serves as the working model for their business, The Recovery Project.


“I had the ideas, and he had the motivation,” said Swingle, who is a single mother with three sons. “All at that age when kids take chances,” she added.


“I was 22,” said Josh Marshbanks of Canton, who injured his spinal cord in a diving accident at his parent’s home. Through a friend of his mother’s, Marshbanks was referred to The Recovery Project for physical rehabilitation.


“It’s been a life changing experience,” said Marshbanks. “You have this plan in life and then all of a sudden it gets shot and you have to change what you’re doing.”


The Recovery Project not only helped Marshbanks regain his upper body strength but his confidence as well.


“It’s such a family atmosphere and the people are so friendly. That’s what I needed,” Marshbanks said. “Having a spinal cord injury you find yourself feeling lost. You don’t know which direction to go in life.”


So, once they helped him return to it everything else fell into place.


“I am 28 now,” Marshbanks said. “I’m living on my own with my girlfriend. She helps me but I’m pretty much living independently. I’m able to cook and clean and handle my job. I am happy with my life.”


The Recovery Project has two rehab clinics: 15500 19 Mile Road, Suite 330, Clinton Township; 2000 Victor Parkway, Suite 100, Livonia. For more information visit or call 1-855-877-1944.


Click here to read the original Macomb Daily article.