By Jordan Halkyard
Three years ago, Brooklynn Kampert had little hope. The then 16-year old volleyball player from Craven was in a car accident, and doctors suggested she would never be able to walk again. However, with the help of a special gym in Regina, the now 19-year old Kampert has left her wheelchair behind and can now walk with only the assistance of a cane.
The facility Kampert used to achieve her results is Regina’s First Steps Wellness Centre. It is Canada’s first facility to use the methods pioneered by Project Walk, a San Diego, California-based organization that wishes to help people with spinal cord injuries regain the ability to walk. The facility uses an intense exercise-based program to push clients more than traditional rehab. Kampert was a volleyball player before she was injured and welcomed the chance to workout hard once again. She a “love hate relationship” with the trainers at First Steps, but “being able to go and workout hard like before was awesome.”
Kampert went to the gym five days a week and worked out for an hour and a half per session. Results came quickly, and within the first month Kampert gained a centimeter of muscle on her leg. Eventually, she was able to get up and walk once again.
“I had two big leg braces on both of legs and I used a pair of crutches to get up. I pulled myself up and it was like ‘Oh my God, this is the best feeling in the world.’ I only took a couple steps, maybe four feet, but I really felt that I accomplished a lot through that,” Kampert said.
Success stories like Kampert’s have attracted others from across the country to First Steps. Natasha Urkow, a 22 year old from Edmonton, first came to First Steps for two years. Four years ago, Urkow was ejected from a car and landed on a guard rail which broke her neck. After 11 months in hospital, Urkow went to rehab where she said “ they are trying to make your life as comfortable as possible” and they make clients accept their lives in a wheelchair. After her time in rehab, she wanted to go further in her recovery. To do this she went to San Diego to use the Project Walk program there. She was impressed with the facility,, and when she came back to Canada she looked for similar place here. An Internet search led her family to First Steps, and she came to Regina shortly after. Urkow said her time at First Steps has brought some more positivity into her recovery.
“ It helps with mood and attitude, it kind of gives you purpose. If people are suffering from depression exercise helps a lot, and coming to a place like this is really the best medicine. Better than any antidepressant,” Urkow said.
Liana Joksimovic also had to make a move to come to First Steps. Joksimovic, a 28 year old Hamilton, Ontario native, came to First Steps one and a half years ago after being in a wheelchair for two and a half years. Like Kampert and Urkow, a car accident left Joksimovic wheelchair bound. Traditional therapy was not doing enough for her and she wanted to improve more. She heard and Project Walk in America and then typed Project Walk Canada into an Internet search and First Steps came up. After seeing that, she knew where she needed to be.
Once Joksimovic came to Regina, she had to get used to the more intense style used at First Steps. Like others, she had to adjust to First Steps from her experience in rehab where Joksimovic said “they treated (her) like glass.
Since coming to First Steps, Joksimovic has been able to gain more core strength and flexibility in her hips. When she first came to the facility, when lying down her feet would rise up about 30 degrees off of a mat. Now she can lay flat.
Aside from the physical side of things, Joksimovic said coming to First Steps has helped her with the mental side of her injury.
“You have this huge tragedy in your life and you want to give up on everything and then you come here and it is just this huge encouragement for everything,” Joksimovic said.
Urkow said the positive attitude First Steps’ clients and staff has towards recovery and rehab has been “eye-opening to her” and the environment has been really rewarding.
Though the results have been rewarding, both Urkow and Joksimovic have needed financial supports to keep coming to First Steps. Joksimovic and her family raised around $30,000 before coming to Regina and Urkow also had to raise a large sum before her trip to the facility. These supports from back home have remained since coming to Regina.
Though there have been obstacles such as finances and having to navigate a new city, being able to improve their lives has been completely worth it, even if they may not be able to walk.
“You just have to be like this is what happened this is how I’m going to deal with it. There is no point to sit and hide yourself you still have life, you still are capable of doing certain things. No matter how you are or what you are there is always someone worse off, and there is always somebody better off,” Urkow said.