Meet Natalie Barnhard, a Physical Therapist Assistant, Licensed Massage Therapist, entrepreneur, advocate, speaker, dog mom, Apex C user, and the president and founder of Motion Project Foundation Inc. This foundation focuses on helping people that have suffered from a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) or other neurological disabilities to get intense rehabilitation therapy, resources, and support in the Buffalo, N.Y. area while raising awareness about the importance of rehabilitation and the limitations that some states have on equipment for people that suffer from a SCI.
How Motion Project was born
In 2004, Natalie suffered a spinal cord injury while at work when a 600-pound piece of equipment fell over on her; the diagnosis was C5-6 level quadriplegia.
Typically, when people suffer from spinal cord injuries the next step is rehab after hospitalization. The average hospital stay after a spinal cord injury is 11 days, and after that, 31 days in rehab, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Database.
As a Physical Therapist Assistant, Natalie knew that she would need a LOT of therapy sessions to gain some of her mobility again, so she went to Atlanta for post-rehabilitative care. However, not everyone can access post-rehabilitative care since it’s not covered by insurance.
Motion Project Foundation (formerly Wheels With Wings Foundation) became a vision and personal goal early in Natalie’s recovery process. She saw firsthand how challenging it can be for someone to obtain intense rehabilitation services, home modifications and other equipment that is needed due to a spinal cord injury.
Finally, after years of working hard, her dream is coming true with the opening of The Natalie Barnhard Center for Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation and Recovery in Buffalo. And by doing so, she is helping people get the best possible care and support they need. She says, “It is really all about helping people by guiding them to find the right resources and become educated, so they can find the right equipment for their unique needs. I want to help people learn to be their own best advocate, become as independent as possible, and live their best life.”
Naturally, after learning about Natalie, we wanted to meet her. We had a fun and interesting chat, and you will be able to read all about it!
Motion Composites: We are in awe of your work! We wanted to ask you, what would you say is the most unique feature of Motion Project? What makes it stand out as a rehab center?
Natalie Barnhard: Thank you for contacting me! I love to talk about Motion Project! What makes us unique is that we are not just clinicians who opened this center. We are a family that can relate to everyone who comes here; we can understand what people are going through.
We opened this center knowing all the struggles and challenges I faced in my own injury and the gap in the community that comes with the lack of services. When someone comes in the center, people don’t feel like a “patient”; they feel like someone that comes to work on their health. After all, that is what we are advocating for: getting people to live their best life, even if they are not fully recovered to the point that they are out of their wheelchair. They can still live a full life.
MC: Since you were already a therapist before your accident, do you think that experience has impacted how you help people?
NB: Totally! It is crazy to me to think about how my life has come “full circle”; first, I was a therapist, and I LOVED being able to help people that way! And since my accident, I cannot use my hands and body to help people get better. However, I can still help people to get into rehab. And not just that, I can also understand what newly injured people are going through and reassure them that it does get better.
Also, my mom does the day-to-day operations, and sometimes we get parents of clients that are at a loss because their child just got injured and they are lost and don’t know where to start; she can support them since she went through the same experience.
We have a unique opportunity to help people in ALL ASPECTS of recovery. We are starting to develop some mental health and peer support systems; we firmly believe that this is a key element in rehab.
MC: What plans do you have for the future of Motion Project? Where do you see it going in, say, 10 years?
NB: I would LOVE to continue to grow! We would love to make this center become the best it can be!
In 10 years, I would love to have the full continuum of care. From the moment that someone gets injured, they have specialized care. Training doctors to be as specialized as possible (because there are not that many specialists of SCIs out there) and offering resources for mental health, spiritual health, funding, etc.
MC: You are in an Apex Carbon. How do you feel about it? What is your favourite feature?
NB: What drew me to this chair is the look of it! Other chairs in the market have a similar look, but the Apex C had the right modern edge to it, and I love the color accents.
I wanted a carbon fiber wheelchair to see how far I was able to get around by myself before adding power assist features. I love that it is super lightweight and allows me to do more in my day.
MC: On a more personal note, we heard you are getting married! Congratulations!!!
NB: Oh my goodness! Thank you! It has been a long time waiting for our wedding! I was 39 when I met him, and I will be 42 when the wedding happens. But it was worth the wait! He is a good man!
Dating in a chair was hard; my confidence was shattered for the longest time. I used to think, “what man is going to want me now?” After all, you want someone that sees you for you and not just the chair; and not everyone can do that; I learned that the hard way. He definitely sees me and not the chair. We have a special love that I never thought could exist.
I am really happy now! And he takes such good care of me! I cannot wait for our big day! Actually, I am going to appear in “Say yes to the dress,” so stay tuned for that!
MC: Would you like to add a last comment for the people reading this article?
NB: We have to do better! Our government must do better and understand that mobility aids, therapy, and rehab should not be a “privilege.” It should be standard. We must continue educating people about this and ensure the awareness gets to our legislators.
We want to thank Natalie for taking the time in her busy schedule to talk to us and share her story! We love to be able to share Natalie’s story and to be able to continue to promote awareness of Motion Project and all the hard work that they do to help the community!
Make sure to check Motion Project’s Website here to learn more about their work and how to get in contact with them. They are also on numerous social media platforms, reach out and follow them to see the great work they are doing!