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Water Therapy May Be Way to Rehabilitation

By Dawn Frasieur

ALBANY – The new stairs at Albany Pool make entering and exiting more convenient for any swimmer who uses the facility. But for someone with a limiting physical handicap, they’re almost a necessity.

It was that type of person that Dr. Alan Ling had in mind when he donated the stairs for community use. Among those who can now get in and out more easily are his own “pool therapy” patients.

Ling, whose practice is entitled Physical Therapy Innovations, has had tremendous success using water as a physical therapy tool. Charles Novascone is a typical success story, he said.

Novascone is 76 years old. More than a year ago, a disc operation led to an infection, a second operation, and the loss of the use of his legs. “It was completely gone,” he said. “I had no strength. They were just like ru1ber and would collapse under me.

Novascone was bedridden in the hospital for three months; after his release last summer, he was confined to a wheel chair. He had met Ling in the hospital and his daughter encouraged him to seek Ling’s help for recovery.

“I went to the clinic, did exercicies. I progressed slowly,” said Novascone. “Then he recommended I go to the swimming pool. That’s when I started improving by leaps and bounds.”

Novascone learned to exercise in the water. Ling explained to him how the water would keep him buoyant, bringing the vital exercise for his legs much closer within reach. As exercise and movement became easier, Novascone experienced a change in attitude as well.

“Within a few weeks after the pool therapy began, I got stronger and more confident. I could walk there without any assistance. It really helped me out a great deal,” he said.

After just a few weeks in the pool, Novascone was out of his wheelchair. He can now walk around the house without a cane, which he uses when he’s out in public. And he’s setting new goals.

“I’m contemplating going out and doing a little putting on the putting green,” he said. “My putter will be like a cane.”

Novascone is an avid golfer. He’s also enthusiastic and hopeful about the game becoming a part of his life again, as he gets stronger. By next year, he said, he hopes to be back on the course.

Several individuals were responsible for the idea of placing stairs in the Albany pool.

The need for stairs first occurred to Ling when talking to a member of a pool exercise class designed for arthritis sufferers. “She said she was thinking of quitting the class,” he said. “After the exercises, she was just too tired to get herself out of the pool with no stairs available. How are they going to keep themselves in shape if it’s not accessible?” he asked.

Peggy McQuaid, director of the pool, was supportive of the idea, and was instrumental in the recent establishment of an aquatic therapy program involving several physical therapists. The school district was actually supposed to go in “50-50” on the project, said Ling, but the budget kept getting cut. Eventually, he decided to underwrite the whole thing.

“In this instance, it was necessary for the private sector to assist the public sector in a joint venture that would enhance many lives, give greater accessibility to a therapeutic medium, and promote dignity to many so that they could continue their maximum .functional independence,” Ling said.

Dr. Steven Isono, MD, orthopedic surgeon and medical consultant for the A.H.S. football team, was also involved in the effort, as was the aquatic staff of Physical Therapy Innovations, physical therapist Sheri Ser, assistant Lucy Stefke and Michele Long.

“The use of water to rehabilitate lower extremity, injuries, paralytic conditions, spine problems and general deconditioning has been an under-utilized yet powerful medium,” said Ling. “Getting people in and out of the pool safely has been the biggest deterrent at Abany pool.”

The Albany Unified School District accepted Ling’s donation of the pool stair unit, valued at $1400, at its June 13 meeting.

The stairs include a slanted ladder designed to give easy pool access to the “elderly, arthritic. expectant mothers, y()un~.: learners or anyone uncomfortable with vertical ladders,” according to the accompanying literature. It is constructed of non-corrosive stainless steel rails and fiberglass, with slip-resistant tread steps.

Reprinted from July 18, 1991