Special Reports

Action News enlists Pat Croce for 'Wheelchair for a Day'

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

This number may surprise some, but there are 6 million people living with paralysis in the United States. This is the population of L.A., Washington D.C and Philadelphia combined.

So to understand what it's really like, NextStep's 'Wheelchair for a Day' Campaign is asking able-bodied people to spend one day in wheelchair and then use social media to tell others about their day.

Action News asked Philadelphia's own Pat Croce to participate. As you can imagine, he was up for the challenge.

The day started bright and early. We brought the wheelchair and Pat Croce brought his usual enthusiasm. He also enlisted his son Michael to help. After some initial struggles, they were off to the gym.

Quickly Pat realized just how challenging this challenge would be. "I've only got a couple exercises done, it takes so much time and you have to depend on someone else to help you," he said.

Then after his workout, on his way to breakfast, navigating even the handicap ramp wasn't easy. He struggled going up and got stuck coming down.

We caught up with him again later on his way to a lunch meeting at 333 Belrose and again he faced more issues. It turns out talking on a cell phone and pushing a wheelchair is not a great combination. "You go around in circles," Croce said, adding the day so far was much tougher than he had imagined.

"Transferring on or off a chair, going to a restaurant, going to the bathroom, anything it's difficult doing all activities of daily living. You really have to depend on someone to be with you all the time."

Still Pat is happy to spread awareness about these difficulties. It's one of the goals of "Wheelchair for a Day."

Janne Kouri of California started the campaign. He wasn't always in a wheelchair. Janne was an athlete. He played football at Georgetown University, was into water sports, traveling and skiing.

But a dive into the ocean in 2006, when he hit a sandbar changed his life in an instant.

I spoke to him via skype.

"I wasn't really sure what had happened. I could not move anything and at that point it was, just gasping and trying to survive," Kouri said.

Thankfully, an EMT pulled him from the water and saved his life. But Janne was paralyzed from the neck down.

He received top-notch therapy in Kentucky and then opened NextStep fitness in Los Angeles so he could continue that therapy. It's helped him stay healthy and even be able to stand on his own.

He hopes as more people join the campaign or watch others participate that they can raise more money to open more NextStep centers in more communities so everyone with paralysis can have access to a state of the art fitness center.

"Everybody isn't going to get out of their wheelchair and walk again but the main focus is overall health and wellness and also increasing independence," Kouri said. He believes no one should have to move in order to have access to exercise and fitness they need to survive.

At the end of the day, despite Pat's experience as a physical therapist and his own accident in 1999 which left him without the use of his left leg for a year, he says living in a wheelchair is more difficult than he ever thought, not only physically but also socially and emotionally.

"It's really so different and difficult. It's like psychological warfare b/c I am less of a person because I am lower and I have this barrier. No one can gain the perspective until you sit your ass in a wheelchair, put yourself the seat of others," he Croce said.

The "Wheelchair for a Day" Campaign runs throughout the month of May. If you would like to take the challenge, watch others on social media, or if you would like to donate to the cause, visit: www.wheelchairforaday.org

To learn more about NextStep Fitness, visit: www.Nextstepfitness.org

(Copyright ©2014 WPVI-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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special reports, ali gorman, r.n.
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