Tom Hoatlin was shot and paralyzed 10 years ago during a robbery at the hotel he was managing. His experience led him to take a job as a consultant with the newly created Wellness with SCI (spinal cord injury) program a joint effort of University Health Systems and the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living.

“I went from first being an injury patient to a paid consultant. As a former patient, I offer experience to newer patients,” Hoatlin said.

The program, set to begin in March, will offer free medical care and a promise of establishing a healthier life for SCI patients.

Geared to toward patients between 18 to 65 who have lived with a debilitating SCI for more than two years, the program provides psychosocial workshops and preventative care for wheelchairbound patients.

This program is sponsored by UHS through a University grant.

UHS Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Wellness with SCI program coordinator Sunny Roller said three aspects will be emphasized in the program: nutrition, physical activity and lifestyle. She mentions that the lifestyle division includes aid with stress, sexuality, relationships and confidence.

Roller also pointed out the uniqueness of the operation.

“We try to ward off problems before they start, this is totally new from anything that exists,” she said.

Skin problems, abnormal pain, pressure, ulcers and depression are among the effects that harm those confined to a wheelchair for a long period of time, said UHS psychologist and program director Denise Tate.

Tate was an advocate for the urgency of the Wellness program.

“I think that people really need something like this they usually receive help only when things are getting really bad,” Tate said.

Hoatlin said the program is different from others because of the emphasis it puts on SCI patients. He plans to work with other recovering patients to instruct and host several discussions that will deal with the psychological aspects of coping with daily struggles of an SCI.

Participating patients will be paid for their attendance and have their transportation provided for through the grant. This incentive encourages participation, helps to ensure that the program will remain in the future and will serve as useful research data on this condition.

“Hardly anything is being done about wellness, only crisis control. We offer individual care in order to figure out what each patient can do,” said Roller.

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