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Project Walk arrives
New facility works with the paralyzed
Walk WEB 1
Trainer Pierre Browne demonstrates a piece of equipment used to help spinal injury patients at Project Walk-Atlanta. The nonprofit will hold a grand opening Saturday. - photo by Autumn Vetter

A new facility that seeks to help those paralyzed walk again held a grand opening Sunday.

Jeannie Pickard, one of the owners of the nonprofit Project Walk-Atlanta, said the event included tours of the facility.

“We really want to let people know how different this is than other programs,” she said.

Pickard and her husband, Paul, started planning the facility, located on Grasslands Parkway in south Forsyth, in August.

Their son, Chris, became a quadriplegic after an automobile accident in May 2011, just two weeks shy of his graduation from Lambert High School.

He spent some time at the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta before traveling to California to take part in Project Walk.

The intense, exercised-based program employs the Dardzinski Method, which seeks to reactivate the body’s nervous system, initiate muscle contractions and improve movement.

Chris Pickard intended to stay in the California Project Walk facility for six months, but after just seven weeks became homesick.

That’s when the family made the decision to open the only Project Walk facility in Georgia.

“We’re so thankful that God worked things out so we could open this facility to help Chris and others in similar situations,” Jeannie Pickard said.

The 6,500-square-foot facility employs two highly trained spinal cord recovery specialists. They use a range of standard weight machines, as well as specialized tools — including harnesses, walkers and parallel bars — for those who have suffered spinal cord injuries.

There are also deep-tissue massagers and machines that send electrical stimulations into the muscles.

Tony Davenport, who has been working with Chris Pickard at the center since September, said the key to the Project Walk is “neuromuscular reconnection.”

“We’re re-educating the muscles,” he said. “If you’re not doing anything with those muscles, it gets to the point where those channels from the brain to the muscle completely close off.

“But when you use exercise to start sending signals from the muscle back to the brain, those channels can start to reopen.”

Added Davenport’s fellow specialist, Pierre Browne: “We’re trying to wake up the nervous system.”

While Chris Pickard was Project Walk-Atlanta’s first, Jeannie Pickard said there are about a dozen clients who work with Davenport and Browne.

Browne said most of them come in two times a week for two hours each session.

The training is expensive and not covered by many insurance plans.

“That’s why fundraising is going to be so important for us,” Jeannie Pickard said. “We want to be able to help as many people as we can.”

She hopes many will come to the open house on Sunday to learn more about Project Walk-Atlanta and its plans for the future.

“People with spinal cord injuries are taught to cope and just live with their injuries,” she said. “At Project Walk-Atlanta, there is the opportunity to become strong and healthy in order to gain independence and improve their overall quality of life.”