Injured at 24, Kevin Mullin dedicated himself to studying SCI rehab and recovery to improve his own functionality and get back to all the activities his South Florida home has to offer. He used that knowledge to help launch a now thriving training center that takes a comprehensive approach to improving strength after neurological injury.
Mullin, a C5 quad from a swimming accident, is one of the founders of the Center for Neuro Recovery (centerforneurorecovery.com) — the seeds of which were first planted while he was still in rehab following his injury. He quickly tired of his medical team’s rather gloomy prognosis for his post-SCI independence and activity level. “They actually instructed my family to put me in a nursing home,” Mullin says. With support from his family, Mullin started to research the latest in functional rehabilitation for SCI — a four-and-a-half-year process that took him all over the world. What he learned would help form the basis for CNR. “We opened up a gym based on comprehensive, research-backed neurological training,” he says. “At first, it was going to serve locals in the area, but we filled our capacity within the first six months of it opening and now have a national and international recognition.”
Mullin describes what CNR does as, “following the latest research, having the best equipment and really giving someone the best chance to improve their strength and functionality outside of the traditional therapeutic model.” Of course, operating outside of the traditional medical system means CNR is unable to bill insurance. To help broaden access to CNR, Mullin partners with philanthropists to keep the program costs low. “It’s three hours a day, five days a week, but it breaks down to $59 an hour,” he says. “That’s cheaper than any physical therapist, occupational therapist or even a trainer you can get at Gold’s Gym.”
For clients of Center for Neuro Recovery, a typical day starts with a full body stretching routine. While you’re getting loosened up, a therapist will touch base to see how your body is, inquiring about your sleep, whether you are sore or irritated, and how your energy levels are. Once stretched, you’ll move to some light mat work consisting of balance and core exercises to get the blood flowing and muscles engaging. Then you’ll move onto the meat of the day, which can vary based on your present goals and previous day’s work — anything from robotic gait training, to FES cycling, to core or upper body strengthening.
Mullin recognizes the bad rap associated with some training centers that sell the dream of getting back to a pre-accident level of function. “We’re never going to say, ‘If you follow this five-step plan we’ll get you to walk again.’ To me, that’s snake oil sales,” he says. “I have quadriplegics who come in that don’t brush their own teeth, brush their hair or self-bathe who want to walk again. Well, if you aren’t feeding yourself, how are you going to get enough strength to start helping with transfers or pushing, let alone walking? So what we do is strengthen the body to work on short-term goals while building a foundation for long-term health and activity.”
Mullin is a good example of this type of realistic, results-based approach. He uses a power chair, which he switched to because it allowed him to be more independent in his community. His functional improvement can be measured by the fact that he now needs fewer caregiver hours, can do what he needs with less adaptive equipment and has managed to ward off the bone density, range of motion and cardiovascular issues that often complicate life in a chair. “I have a great quality of life,” he says.
Sun and Sea
Advocating for the Good Life
Living in South Florida and being active in the spinal cord injury community, Mullin has had the opportunity to combine advocacy with fun in the sun, working to bring better accessibility to the cruise ship industry, along with better access to Florida’s beaches and oceans.
“I’ve been on Royal Caribbean’s disability advisory board now for four and a half years as United Spinal’s liaison. We’ve helped with different ship modifications and accessibility tools, working on the accessibility of ship cabins, quarters and bathrooms. I truly love the cruising experience because it’s such a universal and inclusive environment. I don’t always have that to share with my family and friends, but a cruise ship provides a great gathering area for everybody.
I was able to go on one of Royal Caribbean’s newest ships, Symphony of the Seas. It was unbelievable. Its staff was so accommodating — they wanted to make sure that my trip and my experience was top notch, just like everybody else’s. I was able to get to every part of the ship, and every pool had a lift. The access was amazing.
I’m also one of the founding members of Unlimited Abilities Foundation (unlimitedabilities.org), which assists many people with different disabilities with beach and ocean access. One of our current programs is working with city and state officials on accessible beach mats, so that everybody, tourist or local, can get out and enjoy the beach experience. We also do adaptive scuba diving, which I am most passionate about. Being able to give others the opportunity to explore our beautiful oceans is one of the most rewarding things I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of.”
Craziest Place I’ve Been in My Wheelchair:
Off the coast of the Dominican Republic, I got to go marlin fishing in 12-foot seas and had one of the best times of my life.
Wheelchair of Choice:
The Permobil F5. I take it in dirt, sand, all sorts of things and it keeps up with me. I love it.
Why I Joined United Spinal:
I was trying to learn tips and tricks for living life in a chair, and every subject I would research, United Spinal’s resources kept popping up. I learned more about them and knew I had to make contact.