Success Stories


Charlie Parkhill is the co-founder and co-owner of The Recovery Project. Charlie was injured in an ocean wave accident while vacationing with his wife in 1998, suffering an incomplete SCI at C -4/5. Given the typical prognosis of “you will never walk” and “will probably be fed through a feeding tube” he decided to put everything aside and vowed to beat “this thing”.
As he started outpatient physical therapy (PT), the most fortunate event of his post injury life would be meeting Polly Swingle, and she would become his PT, giving him all he wanted and could take, introducing a new, innovated, highly intensive program. Prior to that time, highly intensive, ongoing rigorous therapy for individuals with spinal cord injuries (SCI) was rare, if existent at all; in fact it was frowned upon and considered a waste of time. The program Polly developed was for three hours a day, five days a week. Starting with a few steps harnessed (and unweighted) he took a couple steps on a treadmill. Within a few months they were doing 40 minutes on the treadmill, without harness or unweighting.

Continuing with the protocols developed by Polly and implemented by The Recovery Project’s PTs, a chronology of Charlie’s progress follows: 1999: Begins walking with standard walker 2001: Walks ¼ mile with standard walker 2006: Takes first two unassisted steps documented in a November 8, 2006 Detroit Free Press article entitled “NO RETREAT NO GIVING IN” 2008: Takes 100 unassisted steps 2010: First 100 foot (unassisted) walk 2013-2014: This was his first year without a personal best, so Charlie added extra leg exercises and increased workouts to six days a week. As a result, one of the last walks of 2014, he again neared the 100 feet mark, a portion of which can be seen here with a goal to never have a maintenance or plateau year, he has added a one hour/week session on TRP’s RT300 electrical stim cycle, leading to some of the best unassisted walking in his life. 

However, Charlie does not measure his overall rehabilitation by the distance walked or physical achievements, but by its effect on overall quality of life. “I wanted to walk and I do. Far greater are the rewards of aiming for great heights, and being rewarded by the successes along the way – as my friend and fellow SCI Tracy Stone reminds us, “If you shoot for the stars you may reach the moon”. I count among the successes: excellent health (no hospital days for SCI related issues, no skin break down) and the stamina and ability to contribute to TRP, participate on advisory boards of the University of Michigan Model Spinal Cord System and Michigan Spinal Cord Injury Association. Not the least of all, presiding over the Mary and Charles A. Parkhill Foundation for Spinal Cord Rehabilitation, where with Mary, Polly and an energetic, committed and supportive board, we have been able to provide rehabilitative therapies throughout the country for individuals with SCI and TBI who otherwise would not have the resources to reach for their stars. “ When Polly and Charlie started TRP, “we wanted to see what could happen if an individual with an SCI could sustain a high level of intensive therapy over an extended period of time. If so, with what outcome?” The journey is not complete, but after 17 years, the results speak for themselves. Click here to see a recent video of Charlie walking.