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CBS "The Doctors" TV Show - In sickness and in health
CBS "The Doctors" TV Show - In sickness and in health
March 4, 2013
In Sickness and in Health Janne was a “guys’ guy” and Georgetown University football player when he met Susan – a young woman with a promising career in finance. The two fell in love and enjoyed being active together, until a tragic accident left Janne paralyzed, changing the couple’s life forever. Now, more than six years later, Janne and Susan are married and not only helping Janne regain control of his legs, but others who’ve suffered from spinal cord injuries.
The Times of Brunswick
The Times of Brunswick
January 7, 2013
SURVIVOR. VISIONARY. NON-PROFIT ENTREPRENEUR.
SURVIVOR. VISIONARY. NON-PROFIT ENTREPRENEUR.
October 20, 2012
In one day, everything can change. In August 2006, Janne Kouri, an avid athlete, dived into the ocean between volleyball games and hit a sandbar. In a brief moment, both his C5 and C6 vertebrae fractured, and he became paralyzed from the neck down. That moment also led to his new life mission and passion—an organization that would help disabled citizens all over the country. For his recovery, Janne moved to Louisville, Kentucky for a year to utilize the cutting edge Locomotor Training at a rehab facility. However, when he came home, he found that California did not have any facilities for him to continue his therapy and training regime. His situation revealed to him the severe lack of options for the disabled. “That was a very shocking experience. Reality hit me smack in the face about what the problem was right now in the United States,” he says. Rather than give up his training, he created the non-profit organization NextStep Fitness in the hope of opening fitness facilities specifically for the disabled. His vision became a reality with the state-of-the-art facility in the South Bay, and now NextStep is expanding to New York, Las Vegas, Florida, Washington, DC and Canada. “Unfortunately without the proper resources, somebody with any type of disability can very easily suffer from secondary complications and health issues,” he explains. “So at NextStep, we try to insure that anybody suffering from a disability has access to the resources that are essential to their survival.” Injured in a skiing accident about a year ago, the doctors had a grim outlook for Amanda Tim. Her whole life changed as she and her family moved from their home in Calgary to take advantage of NextStep’s services in the South Bay. “The doctors told her that she had no hope of ever walking again and no hope of recovery. Only months after being here at NextStep, she actually went bungee jumping, and now she goes hand cycling on the weekends,” Janne says energetically. “Her doctors are just shocked at her recovery. She is obviously an extremely motivating inspiration to all. It’s also inspiring to know that the services we provide are making such a big difference in people’s lives.” This May, NextStep is promoting their Wheelchair for a Day Challenge. This nationwide challenge encourages able-bodied people to spend a day in a wheelchair to help educate people about living with a disability and help NextStep raise funds and spread their vision across the country. “I don’t think you really understand what it’s like to live with a disability until you actually experience it for yourself,” Janne says of the challenge. “IT’S NOT ALWAYS SOMEBODY JUMPING OUT OF A WHEEL-CHAIR AND WALKING. WHETHER IT’S SOMEBODY GETTING HEALTHIER OR GETTING A JOB OR GETTING MARRIED AND STARTING A FAMILY… IT’S THAT HOPE THAT THEY DIDN’T HAVE BEFORE NEXTSTEP—TO LIVE A NORMAL LIFE THAT THEY DIDN’T THINK THEY COULD BEFORE.”
NextStep is Top 5 Finalist in Health and Well Being for the 4th Annual Stay Classy Awards
NextStep is Top 5 Finalist in Health and Well Being for the 4th Annual Stay Classy Awards
July 18, 2012
The Reeve Foundation's NeuroRecovery Network (NRN) Community Fitness and Wellness Program provides support for the development of specialized facilities for individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) and other physical disabilities. NextStep Fitness is one of five NRN Community Fitness and Wellness facilities in the country. They were selected as a Top 5 Finalist in Health and Well Being for the 4th Annual CLASSY Awards! A CLASSY Award is one of the most prestigious recognitions within the nonprofit industry. The CLASSYs have become a nationally-recognized honor, awarded to the most outstanding and compelling philanthropic achievers by their peers and supporters. Beyond this recognition, the intrinsic value of the CLASSY Awards lies in the opportunity for charitable organizations to tell their stories and spread awareness for their causes. NextStep has paved the way with the first community facility in the U.S., NextStep Fitness Los Angeles ‘NSF’, to offer Locomotor and activity based training and continues its vision to expand across the US. Read the rest of NextStep's story they entered. Please vote for NextStep at http://www.stayclassy.org/classy-awards/vote. Voting ends at 11:59 P.M. PST on July 26, 2012. Julie Manager, Web & Social Media
Action News enlists Pat Croce for NextStep's 'Wheelchair for a Day'
Action News enlists Pat Croce for NextStep's 'Wheelchair for a Day'
May 1, 2012
May 1, 2012 (WPVI) -- This number may surprise some, but there are 6 million people living with paralysis in the United States. This is the population of L.A., Washington D.C and Philadelphia combined. So to understand what it's really like, NextStep's 'Wheelchair for a Day' Campaign is asking able-bodied people to spend one day in wheelchair and then use social media to tell others about their day. Action News asked Philadelphia's own Pat Croce to participate. As you can imagine, he was up for the challenge. The day started bright and early. We brought the wheelchair and Pat Croce brought his usual enthusiasm. He also enlisted his son Michael to help. After some initial struggles, they were off to the gym. Quickly Pat realized just how challenging this challenge would be. "I've only got a couple exercises done, it takes so much time and you have to depend on someone else to help you," he said. Then after his workout, on his way to breakfast, navigating even the handicap ramp wasn't easy. He struggled going up and got stuck coming down. We caught up with him again later on his way to a lunch meeting at 333 Belrose and again he faced more issues. It turns out talking on a cell phone and pushing a wheelchair is not a great combination. "You go around in circles," Croce said, adding the day so far was much tougher than he had imagined. "Transferring on or off a chair, going to a restaurant, going to the bathroom, anything it's difficult doing all activities of daily living. You really have to depend on someone to be with you all the time." Still Pat is happy to spread awareness about these difficulties. It's one of the goals of "Wheelchair for a Day." Janne Kouri of California started the campaign. He wasn't always in a wheelchair. Janne was an athlete. He played football at Georgetown University, was into water sports, traveling and skiing. But a dive into the ocean in 2006, when he hit a sandbar changed his life in an instant. I spoke to him via skype. "I wasn't really sure what had happened. I could not move anything and at that point it was, just gasping and trying to survive," Kouri said. Thankfully, an EMT pulled him from the water and saved his life. But Janne was paralyzed from the neck down. He received top-notch therapy in Kentucky and then opened NextStep fitness in Los Angeles so he could continue that therapy. It's helped him stay healthy and even be able to stand on his own. He hopes as more people join the campaign or watch others participate that they can raise more money to open more NextStep centers in more communities so everyone with paralysis can have access to a state of the art fitness center. "Everybody isn't going to get out of their wheelchair and walk again but the main focus is overall health and wellness and also increasing independence," Kouri said. He believes no one should have to move in order to have access to exercise and fitness they need to survive. At the end of the day, despite Pat's experience as a physical therapist and his own accident in 1999 which left him without the use of his left leg for a year, he says living in a wheelchair is more difficult than he ever thought, not only physically but also socially and emotionally. "It's really so different and difficult. It's like psychological warfare b/c I am less of a person because I am lower and I have this barrier. No one can gain the perspective until you sit your ass in a wheelchair, put yourself the seat of others," he Croce said. The "Wheelchair for a Day" Campaign runs throughout the month of May. If you would like to take the challenge, watch others on social media, or if you would like to donate to the cause, visit: www.wheelchairforaday.org To learn more about NextStep Fitness, visit: www.Nextstepfitness.org (Copyright ©2012 WPVI-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)
ABC's "Good Morning America," Man's Miracle Recovery: From Paralyzed to Helping Others
ABC's "Good Morning America," Man's Miracle Recovery: From Paralyzed to Helping Others
March 29, 2012
Man's Miracle Recovery: From Paralyzed to Helping Others New Therapy Helps Janne Kouri Learn to Stand Again Without a Walker By RICH McHUGH | Good Morning America – Thu, Mar 29, 2012 5:28 PM EDT Janne Kouri was told he would never walk again. Paralyzed from the neck down after a freak accident in the ocean five years ago, Kouri's entire world was completely turned upside down. But rather than give up, Kourani pushed through with the support of his wife and family, and turned his tragedy into a life's work. Now, five years after he was told there was no hope for recovery, the 36-year-old can stand up on his own without a walker. On August 5, 2006, Kouri, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., was playing beach volleyball with some friends when he ran down to the ocean to cool off in between games. He dove into the waves, crashed his head into a hidden sand-bar, and was instantly paralyzed from the neck down. "I knew something really bad had happened because I couldn't move anything," said Kouri, who was 31 at the time of the accident. "There definitely was -- a moment there where I was thinking that that could be my last breath." Fortunately an off-duty EMT pulled him ashore and rushed him to the hospital. Kouri was alive, but a doctor delivered devastating news to his then-girlfriend, Susan. "[The doctor] looked me right in the eye and said, 'You need to be prepared for him never to walk again,'" Susan Kouri, 36, recalled. "I will never forget that." Before the accident, Kouri had worked as a director of an online social network and was a force of nature. At 6' 4" and 285 pounds, he was the star defensive tackle on the Georgetown University football field with NFL prospects and was called "the general" by his friends because of his take-charge attitude. With his spinal cord fractured in two places, Kouri spent two months in intensive care, developed pneumonia and nearly died twice. "There were many times he came to me and said, 'You know, you don't need to do this. You don't need to be here,'" Susan said. "I promised him that as long as his heart and his mind stayed the same that I would love him." That love would change everything, giving Kouri the determination to move forward with his life. As his health returned, the reality of his paralysis was grim and treatment options were bleak. Cutting-Edge Research Renews Couple's Hope Finally, the couple found their ray of hope. In their research and after months of Susan traveling around the country visiting rehab centers, they discovered Dr. Susan Harkema at the Frazier Rehabilitation Institute in Louisville, Ky. Harkema helped develop a cutting-edge therapy known as "loco-motor training," which teaches the spinal cord how to control motor functions like walking, through repetitive motion. The late actor Christopher Reeve was among her first test subjects to utilize the training; the therapy has now helped hundreds of spinal cord injury victims. "Dr. Harkema was the one person that told us, 'There is hope for recovery,'" Kouri said. The couple moved to Louisville to work with Harkema. "The first day I got there they put me up on the treadmill and I passed out in seven seconds. Shortly after, within days after, I was able to stay up for ten, 15 minutes, and then an hour," Kouri said. "Very quickly I started to get a lot stronger. My circulation improved, blood pressure improved, muscle strength." After two to three months of training, Kouri had his first milestone -- a little toe wiggle. "I started wiggling one of my toes, which was an incredible moment," he said. "And I said, 'You know what? I have a chance here." Janne Kouri Stands Up to Help Others Full of hope, Kouri wanted to return to California and continue loco-motor training near his home, but it wasn't available. "We brought this to my father and my family and my friends saying 'Hey, we need to do something about the situation. I can't find the type of treatment and rehab that I want in California," he said. "That means that nobody there can." That sparked a big idea. With the help of family, friends, Harkema and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, in 2007, they raised the funds to start NextStep Fitness, a non-profit rehab center in Los Angeles where not only Kouri, but anyone in the community could get locomotor training at an affordable cost. The nonprofit wing of their organization has blossomed as well, launching the Wheelchair for a Day Challenge in a nationwide effort to raise awareness about the daily challenges associated with paralysis, and to raise funding to help build additional rehab centers across the country. Many have compared Kouri and Moffat's commitment to helping others to Christopher and Dana Reeve and see their work as a continuation of Reeve's legacy. "They're an incredible couple, an incredible family, he's obviously an inspiration and somebody I look up to," Kouri said. "He didn't quit till the day he died. And you know, I'm going to take that same mentality into my fight as well. " Between rounds of rehab, Kouri and Susan turned their tragedy into a future together and got married. "She's been amazing," Kouri said. "She's quit her job two times and she sacrificed a lot in her life to stay with me. Most relationships don't make it through this situation, so I'm blessed. She an incredible woman and a wonderful wife and I wouldn't be here without her." Kouri's Emotional Milestone In May 2009, Kouri took his first steps in three years with the assistance of a walker. He told "Good Morning America"'s Robin Roberts about reaching the incredible milestone at the time. "You hear it all the time, but if you put your mind to it, you can make it happen. But you know it's true that if you stay focused and work every single day, you really can do whatever you set your mind to," he said. Roberts visited Kouri in February for his most recent milestone: standing for the first time, on his own, without his walker. "I forget how tall I was," he joked with Roberts. But the best was yet to come, Kouri wanted to stand again and this time, he had a surprise up his sleeve: giving his wife the wedding dance she never had. "It went from wiggling my toe to gaining more function in my legs and [being] able to then walk on a walker, and to now being able to stand independently for a short period of time," Kouri said. "From there, the sky's the limit, so we'll be walkin' one day soon.
Janne Kouri, NextStep Fitness: Life-Altering Moment Leads To Life Calling
Janne Kouri, NextStep Fitness: Life-Altering Moment Leads To Life Calling
March 27, 2012
Janne Kouri had a great life -- a successful career as director for a digital entertainment company, a new California beach home, a beautiful girlfriend and terrific friends. "I was living the dream," Kouri said. "I couldn't have been happier. I had a lifestyle most people aspire to live." But the direction of Kouri's life changed drastically in just one moment. Diving into the ocean to cool off as he had done many times before, Kouri this time hit a sandbar, fracturing his C5 and C6 vertebrae. He was instantly paralyzed from the neck down, and the doctors told him he would never walk again. Yet that toughest year of his life led to a realization of his life's calling. Straight out of rehab, Kouri started Los Angeles-based NextStep, the first community facility in the United States to offer progressive training for people with paralysis and other physical disabilities, with hopes to help the 6 million people who live with paralysis in the United States -- and eventually to expand worldwide. On Monday, NextStep announced its first national fundraising effort, Wheelchair For A Day 2012, where able-bodied people spend one day in May in a wheelchair and document the experience through video and photographs, to raise awareness for patients with spinal cord injuries. Kouri points out that these patients spend only 36 days in rehabilitation before being discharged home -- he hopes to provide not only the next step after rehab but their first step out of the wheelchair. What happened on that day you fractured your vertebrae? I was playing volleyball with some friends. It was a hot summer day, so I decided to run to the ocean like I had every day I was at the beach, dove into a wave and hit a sandbar hard. Did you know immediately that something was wrong? I was in a state of shock. A wave struck me over and I was floating on my back -- I was able to take some breaths of air when I wasn't swallowing water and to keep myself afloat for about 30 or 45 seconds until someone saw me and pulled me ashore. I remember thinking, "This could be my last breath." But I fought hard to stay alive as long as I could. When did you first hear the diagnosis? Soon after the injury, a nurse and doctor told my girlfriend I would never walk again and there was no hope for my recovery. It was hours afterward when I heard the news. It was actually a pretty short conversation. They told me medically what happened, and said, "We don't know if you're going to walk again." Did you ever have a moment lying in ICU where you wanted to give up? There was never a moment I wanted to give up. Once I realized I was lucky to be alive, that changed everything. There are people who experienced what I experienced and didn't make it out alive. So that realization motivated me. I love life. I wanted to show myself and my family and all my friends I was capable of getting out of this on top. From there, it just became a process of figuring out what was the next step in my recovery. I was a hard-working, determined individual, and I wasn't going to listen to what any doctor told me. I was going to fight the fight and beat this thing. My girlfriend at the time, who's now my wife, researched the best options across the country and found the most progressive type of rehab. Where did you have to go to find this progressive rehab center? Louisville, Kentucky. There wasn't a single progessive rehab center anywhere in California, not a single facility west of the Mississippi that offered Locomotor training, which involves harnessing somebody living with paralysis over a treadmill, with trainers moving your legs for you and stabilizing your hips. You're basically simulating what it is like to walk, in an attempt to retrain the nervous system. It's the best therapy for people living with spinal cord injury. And there are lots of other health benefits to it beyond just training the body to walk again -- blood circulation, improved blood pressure, increased bone density, muscle mass. I was an inpatient at Frazier Rehab for six months and stayed on for another six months as an outpatient. It was an absolutely fabulous experience. They pushed me every single day. It was a very intense program and that's what I was looking for. Their thinking was you can recover from this type of injury, that there was hope -- that type of positive attitude. You started and sold a mobile gaming company after college. Do you think the entrepreneurial drive that helped you to do that also helped you get through this personal challenge? Without a question. It's just another challenge. Starting a business is a challenge you face each and every day, and this is the same type of thing, just overcoming obstacles and having a great attitude, staying mentally positive no matter what you face. And it's just as much a mental battle as it is a physical battle. When did it occur to you that you should start a rehab center yourself? Six months after the injury, after getting out of the hospital and starting to think about what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I knew I wanted to go back home to Hermosa Beach and continue to live same lifestyle I was living. I wouldn't let the injury stop that from happening, but at the same time I knew I needed to keep doing progressive therapy. That was what sparked something -- to do this not only for me but for others who are living with paralysis. We took everything they offer at the most progressive rehab center in the country and created a community-based facility. We want to ensure that anybody with a physical disability has access to the best type of rehab for the rest of their life. What was it like starting a company in a completely different industry? With any startup, it's never a smooth operation. We were the first ones to do what we were doing, so we were just building from the ground up. We made mistakes along the way. Obviously it's a difficult economic climate for fundraising, and we require a lot of funding. But we persevered and figured out a business model that works. We want to expand to communities across the country, so people don't have to quit their job or have their family leave their homes while they're in rehab. The next one we want to open is in Washington, D.C., in 2013. We are researching other communities as well -- Vegas, New York, Phoenix -- as well as globally. Hundreds of people have come through NextStep since you opened. Do their stories inspire you? Absolutely. We hear unbelievable life-altering stories every day. Imagine you're stuck at home and have no access to any type of exercise or therapy. It can be very depressing, not only physically but mentally debilitating. We hear countless stories of people who were stuck at home and had given up on life to becoming independent, going back to work, driving a car, traveling, getting married, having children getting up out of that chair for the first time walking with a walker. And how are you doing? Considering I was told I would never be able to walk, to be able to stand completely independently for 30 seconds has been miraculous for me. That happened about two weeks ago. This is such a true passion in life. I love what I'm doing. When I wake up, I'm excited about the day, excited about the lives we're changing. What we're doing is an incredible experience. This has been a blessing in disguise. So instead of questioning why, you're saying this all happened to you for a reason? I realized that very quickly. For a couple years before I got injured, I told my girlfriend I really needed to do something with my life to help others. I had always been involved with charities loosely but never really dove into that completely. So when this happened, it was like a slap in the face, saying this is your opportunity to do something. This is your mission in life. Entrepreneur Spotlight Name: Janne Kouri Company: NextStep Age: 36 Location: Los Angeles Founded: 2007 Employees: 11 Website: www.nextstepfitness.org
The Beach Reporter, "Next Step"
The Beach Reporter, "Next Step"
July 20, 2011

Melissa Allensworth was nearing rock bottom.

Three years ago, the hard-partying 27-year-old drove out to Arizona for a weekend of partying with friends. She doesn’t remember the night before, but around 5 a.m. she drove her friend home. Allensworth was drunk.

Instead of turning into her friend’s Tucson apartment complex, Allensworth drove her white Ford F150 onto Interstate 10. They had made it 45 minutes out of town when Allensworth presumably passed out and hit a construction sign. The impact jolted her awake. She jerked the wheel hard to the left. The truck slammed into the center divider. It flipped and continued to roll down the highway. The two friends, who weren’t wearing seatbelts, flew out of the truck. The F150 landed on top of Allensworth’s friend.Next Steps

She remained trapped for about an hur before help arrived. The truck’s hood had caved in on Allensworth, crushing her neck and breaking her back. She was paralyzed instantly.

Her friend miraculously suffered only a few broken bones and some road rash.

Meanwhile, Allensworth was left with no motor function below her chest. Doctors gave her a wheelchair and told her to get used to it because she would never walk again.

She spent a couple weeks in an intensive care unit in Arizona before being airlifted to a rehabilitation facility back home in California.

“At rehab, they want to put you in a wheelchair and push you out the door after a week. I had to fight tooth and nail to stay an extra three weeks,” she said. Allensworth was scared. With her neck and back in a clamshell brace, she couldn’t look down, handle her bowel care or perform simple daily activities without the help of nurses. She felt she wasn’t ready to go home.

It took a long time before Allensworth could accept being in a wheelchair. Her first year post-injury was soaked in negativity and depression.

Then, last year, Allensworth joined NextStep Fitness.

The nonprofit fitness facility, located on Redondo Beach Boulevard across from the South Bay Galleria, brings the latest in fitness and health to those living with paralysis and other physical disabilities. NextStep was one of the first community-based facilities to utilize equipment and programs previously found exclusively in a handful of hospitals nationwide.

“It’s been a lifesaver,” Allensworth said. “Being at NextStep puts you in a better mindset — ‘We might not be in these wheelchairs for the rest of our lives.’”

While most rehab facilities focus on activating the muscles the patients can still feel and control, assuming the patient will never regain function in the paralyzed areas, NextStep focuses on strengthening the members’ weak points.

“If you’re not using something, it’s not going to get any better,” Allensworth said.

Her weakness is core strength. Without abdominal and back muscles, Allensworth falls forward if she puts both of her hands in front of her. So at NextStep the trainers focus on activating her core.

“I don’t feel disabled when I come here. When they work you out, they take you out of your chair. You’re working out your paralyzed body parts,” she said.

What makes NextStep different from other facilities, besides its affordability, she said, is that staff creates individualized programs and carefully tracks progress. The most unique benefit of the facility, she said, is Janne Kouri.

The founder

Kouri was playing beach volleyball in Manhattan Beach in August 2006 when he decided to take a dip in the ocean to cool off. As he had countless times before, he dove into a wave. This time, he hit a sandbar and was instantly paralyzed from his neck down. Floating on his back in the water, unable to move, Kouri just hoped someone would see him. An off-duty EMT spotted him and pulled him onto shore. Doctors told the 31-year-old, who had once been an All-American football player for Georgetown University, that he would never walk again.

Kouri spent two months in intensive care with a bad bout of pneumonia, while his girlfriend, now wife, Susan, researched rehab centers. They found Frazier Rehab Institute in Louisville, Kentucky, known to be at the cutting edge of spinal cord injury recovery.

At the facility, Kouri participated in the locomotor training program, which at the time could be found only in seven of the best spinal cord facilities in the country. In locomotor training, patients are lifted up on a weight-bearing harness, with trainers straightlining their hips and moving their arms and legs for them on a treadmill system to simulate walking. The program reminds your nervous system what it’s like to walk again and benefits blood pressure, circulation, bone density and muscle mass, Kouri said. Christopher Reeve was one of the first to participate in the clinical trial for the training.

After spending a year in Louisville, Kouri was ready to return to his life in Hermosa Beach.

“There was nowhere in California where I could continue my locomotor training and the other stuff I did at Frazier. That was frightening. But it also opened my eyes to see that if it wasn’t available to me, it wasn’t available to others either,” he said.

Somewhere to go

Kouri, instead of harboring resentment over his situation, came up with a business plan. He wanted to open a community facility that would offer locomotor and other activity-based training for those with disabilities, preventing them from spending their days in a hospital or rehab. He pitched his plan to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation in 2006. With donations from friends and family, Kouri raised $1 million in startup capital. Staff from the hospital in Louisville flew out to L.A. to train Kouri’s staff at NextStep for two months, with disabled community members volunteering to be the guinea pigs.

The doors to NextStep opened on June 5, 2008.

From day one, Kouri’s goal was to make NextStep’s offerings affordable.

“For a lot of people, insurance will drop them three weeks after their injury,” he said. “A lot of people who come to NextStep were in rehab for only three weeks and then were stuck at home with nowhere to go.”

Now, they go to NextStep. The facility is filled with state-of-the-art fitness equipment easily accessible for those in wheelchairs and is typically staffed with eight trainers at all times.

Although locomotor training is the core program, the facility also offers electrical stimulation; arm and leg cycling; strength training, stretching and cardiovascular exercise with trainers; monthly peer groups; free classes on nutrition, travel, sex and employment; and free one-on-one life coaching sessions. Aside from those with paralysis and physical disabilities, NextStep accepts members dealing with stroke, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injuries and Parkinson’s disease.

Kouri said he was fortunate. He was surrounded with support after his injury; Susan and her sister moved to Kentucky with him. But he saw a lot of patients in Louisville who never had visitors. Kouri had plenty.

“I realized the impact of having that type of support group around you. I tried to bring that idea into NextStep. It’s not just a place to come exercise, it’s a place to hang out with people going through the same thing you’re dealing with,” he said.

His members have become his friends, he said.

And the trainers have become family.

“You do become a counselor, a life coach at times. We call it family in here,” said Christel Mitrovich, NextStep’s director.

Lead trainer John Gomez, who has been a personal trainer for 19 years, came to NextStep before it opened because he wanted to work with people who actually needed his help, not wanted it, he said.

“You can’t help but be humbled by what these people go through on a daily basis,” he said. “You or I complain about having to go out and buy dog food at a certain time and in the amount of time it takes us to get it and return, they’re still trying to get in and out of their car.”

Gomez said many members improve psychologically.

“That’s a huge improvement. To go from being depressed, shy, unable to carry on a conversation to being friendly, laughing, talking about dinner or a movie they’ve seen,” he said. “You know you’re helping their quality of life.”

And the fitness program has helped every single member, including Kouri, improve physically — whether it’s a change in skin condition, blood circulation or muscle strength. When Kouri was injured, he had no function below his neck. After a few months, he could wiggle his left toe.

“From there it’s been a constant progression forward. First my toe, then another muscle in my leg, then my core, my glutes…” he said.

Last year, he took his first steps with a walker.

“You never know. One day something starts working that never worked before,” he said.

Amanda Timm had one of those days on Monday.

“Today, I just felt my groin flexing,” she said, smiling. “The first day!”

Timm, the daughter and niece of professional skiers, competed in an alpine ski contest in her native Calgary in February. She was the only girl to pop a 360-degree turn off the base at the competition, her father, Gordon, said. The next day, she asked her dad if she should do more jumps. He told her to just ski a strong line, no tricks. She listened.

“But she came down, hooked an edge, slammed into a tree and here we are,” Gordon said. “It was a freak accident.”

Timm suffered a T5 paralysis and has no motor function from her chest down.

Gordon said they had an experience many other spinal cord injury patients share.

“You’re at the hospital, the quote unquote neurologist and rehab doctors say, ‘Here’s your wheelchair and you’re going to enjoy it because that’s what you’re stuck with,’” he said.

There are no facilities like NextStep in Calgary, and there are only two other spinal cord injury patients in the province, Gordon said. But Amanda, a lifelong athlete and Canadian soccer standout, was determined to find a progressive facility that could help her walk again. Two months ago, they flew down to Los Angeles. She spends her afternoons at NextStep. Gordon and his wife take rotations; one in Canada working, the other always by Amanda’s side.

Seeing Kouri and other NextStep members has given Amanda hope. She continues to improve physiologically every time, Gordon said.

“She’s not allowing it to drag her down. It’s just another hurdle,” he said. “She’s just an athlete who had some bad luck. This is just a setback, it’s not a stop.”

Many members don’t come in with Amanda’s spirit, especially if they’re newly injured.

“They’re kind of at the darkest place in their life,” Mitrovich said. “Immediately you see your peers doing something you didn’t think was possible and trainers that don’t treat you like you’re disabled. It can be very eye-opening and reassuring.”

The members look to Kouri.

“His dedication to the program has been unwavering since the day I met him,” Mitrovich said. “After his injury he and his wife realized, ‘Yes, we are very fortunate and so many others are not.’ They felt they were lucky. But it shouldn’t be that way. Everyone should have access to something like this.”

The cost to survive

But for most rehab programs, the price is too steep.

Kouri’s costs for the one-year stint in Louisville hit eight figures. Most insurance companies give patients $2,500 toward equipment. Kouri’s wheelchair alone cost $35,000.

According to a Reeve Foundation survey, expenses in the first year after a spinal cord injury range from $220,000 to $775,000. The estimated lifetime costs due to a spinal cord injury can range from $681,000 to more than $3 million for a 25-year-old. For most, if they have health insurance, it runs out within a few weeks. But many don’t have it.

NextStep offers different levels of membership to cater to every budget and ability level. Some clients need four trainers to help them sit up or roll over. Other clients just want to lose weight. Some clients pay $1,600 a month, others pay $75 a month, and some pay nothing. With the help of grants and donations, NextStep started a scholarship program for low-income members. Allensworth, who is on disability, said without the scholarship program, she couldn’t afford to be there.

“We want to make sure clients come in here and stay here, and don’t break the bank doing it,” Mitrovich said. “At many other facilities, the clients spend all of their savings and it’s a short-term thing.”

Mitrovich said essentially the whole NextStep program is a scholarship program since they charge a fraction of what it really costs annually to operate the facility — $400,000.

“We eat those costs so our clients can get a program that makes sense. If you’re a quadriplegic and have no use of your arms or legs, you’re going to get that assistance,” she said. “We feel this is a basic necessity (for the members).”

Life on four wheels

Allensworth’s life since her accident is a process.

Before the injury, she was an executive assistant for a property management company. She was known for being quick on her feet, able to run around and multitask.

Now, a shower takes Allensworth a few hours.

Any mundane task an able-bodied person can do in seconds or a few minutes takes Allensworth 15 or 20 minutes.

She also has to set aside time before she leaves her house for outings to take care of things like bowel function.

“Not being able to walk is the least of our concerns,” she said. “Living with this injury is like a full-time job.”

Allensworth said she’s able to live with this because she did it to herself.

“I don’t think I could have lived with myself if there had been another car in the accident or if my friend had gotten more seriously hurt … I was a stubborn person. I needed something drastic to happen before I could wake up and realize what I was doing wasn’t the right way of living.”

Kouri found the irony in his situation. In the months before his injury he had told Susan that he wanted to form a nonprofit, but he couldn’t find a cause that felt like the right fit.

“After my injury, it just slapped me in the face and said, ‘Here you go, here’s your cause. You better do something about this,’” he said.

Next Step will host its “Help Make a Difference” benefit Tuesday, July 26, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 12 and Highland, located at 304 12th Street in Manhattan Beach. The event will feature cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and a raffle by The Charity Angels. Tickets are $80 pre-sale and $100 at the door. For more information and to get tickets, visit www.nextstepfitness.org.

Travels of John - "Re-Learning to Walk, Helping Others With Spinal Cord Injuries"
Travels of John - "Re-Learning to Walk, Helping Others With Spinal Cord Injuries"
December 1, 2010

Janne Kouri is a lifelong athlete who played football at Georgetown University. In 2006, during a break in play from a beach volleyball game with friends in Hermosa Beach, CA, he dove into the waves to cool off, hit his head on a sandbar and was instantly paralyzed. After being rescued by an off-duty EMT who was nearby, Janne was transported first to a local hospital, then to Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, where he would spend the next two months battling a life-threatening case of pneumonia, nearly dying multiple times. After regaining enough fitness to endure the trip, he was transported to the Frazier Rehab Institute at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, KY, where he would do intensive inpatient treatment and a special type of rehab called Locomotor training for six months under the care of Dr. Susie Harkema. After a further six month outpatient treatment regimen, Janne and his wife Susan moved back to Southern California.

Georgetown Alumni Online does a feature story on Janne Kouri (B'97) and Next Step
Georgetown Alumni Online does a feature story on Janne Kouri (B'97) and Next Step
July 29, 2010

In Janne Kouri's native Finland, there is a word - sisu - that he says means "determination and perseverance and never giving up in the face of adversity and most of all not complaining." That special word, along with the friendships he formed and the strength he built as a football player at Georgetown, helped Janne persevere after suffering a serious spinal-cord injury in 2006. He not only has learned to walk with assistance since then, but he also has created a nonprofit corporation called NextStep Fitness so that others can do the same.

How can a Magical Event and a Horrific Heartbeat of a Moment share the same 24- hour period?
How can a Magical Event and a Horrific Heartbeat of a Moment share the same 24- hour period?
July 27, 2010

The San Francisco native, Frank Alioto can contest to the unlikelihood of such irony. Frank's story was featured on "Breakthrough with Tony Robbins," on NBC July 27, 2010. Click here to watch the episode on NBC.com. "Frank the Tank" a nickname that was inherited and has stuck with him since, is due to the parallel between him and the character played by Will Ferrell in the 2003 box office hit "Old School". Both guys always tinkering with their old red camaro's and hangin' with the fellas. The sarcastic, dry humored mechanical engineer tells his story with a smirk; as if he has some of the answers we are all searching for as we travel down the mysterious road of life. His silence is kept, his secret remains unrevealed as he goes through the events of a day that will always be remembered as the day he had a true understanding of the famous words, "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health".

Frank and KristenFrank and Kristen had been good friends for years before they started dating. The active couple was always on the go. Their travel itineraries included several road trips in their RV, 4-wheeling, motor sports, mountain biking, hiking, camping.... and the list goes on, and on. His passion for automobiles produced and altered several vehicles over the years. He describes his garage as a child would describe a toy chest, filled with jeeps, trucks, dune buggies, and scrap motor-parts that would soon have a life of their own. He showed me a picture of his jeep that he modified; it's quite impressive, custom suspension, custom roll-cage, after market seats and beadlock wheels. Frank and Kristen could be characterized as that rare couple that continues their own interests, but yet their experiences are heightened by their unique qualities. Like true puzzle pieces that belong attached, Frank and Kristen had a good thing and knew they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, sharing all adventures that would come their way. They were engaged for about a year and a half and ready to tie the knot on December 6th 2008 in Puerto Vallarta.

Preparing for the day that would unite the two in marriage was no different from any other couple than it was for Frank and Kristen. The planning went smoothly with the help of their strategic, organized, wedding planner with no kinks in sight for the big day. However, there was no way to prepare for the heartbeat of a moment that would occur later that evening.

The week had been jam packed with adventures shared with friends and family. By the time Saturday rolled around Frank and others were ready to relax and fully enjoy the celebration they had all traveled to attend.

He goes on describing the moment his fiancée walked down the aisle to meet him at the alter. Kristen, an independent, successful woman and soon to be wife of a true "Man's Man", was less than amused as she approached him at the alter. She was not lit up with smiles like most brides, but rather annoyed by Frank's actions. The attention of the guests was focused on the "Snap Happy" groom rather than the beautiful bride. Camera in hand, he thought it would be fun to document this particular moment from his view, taking over from the photographer that had been hired. He chuckles as he re-lives the moment in his mind, and then shows me some photos of the ceremony that had been saved to his iPhone.

I have come to know Frank as the funny sarcastic member here at NextStep Fitness. Although I'm back in the office most of the time and have little interaction with the clients, I always catch a glimpse of conversation on the floor and can't help but smile at Frank's contributions. His loyalty, generosity and thoughtfulness are also very apparent from the desk where I sit. He always brings others into the loop of entertaining dialog, no matter what the topic may be on that particular day. Willing to clown at himself and always making sure not to joke at someone else's expense.... well…at least making sure they can handle it if he does. Personally speaking, best of all are his generous avocado offerings from his avocado tree. I have become quite popular with my friends due to my amazing guacamole, Thank You Frank!!

So, back to the story, Kristen is clearly well aware and in loving acceptance of Frank's humor, Kristen's annoyance quickly passed and the wedding ceremony was even more beautiful than expected. The reception was magnificent, over looking the ocean, dancing by the pool and sharing the love and happiness that was so evidently present.

By the time the sun started to set, the entire wedding party was in the pool dancing, wedding clothes and all. Yes, the bride was wearing her dress and her bridesmaids were wearing matching. They were all singing, dancing, and having the time of their lives. What a blast! Wanting to be a part of the "Water Wedding Party", Frank dove in the pool headfirst.

His head forcefully plunged into the concrete floor and within a heartbeat of a moment his C5 & C6 vertebrae were completely shattered -- leaving him with a sever case of paralysis. Memory is lost of the actual dive as well as the contact he had at the bottom. Like a nightmare, but unable to awake, he found himself in a pool of water unable to float. At that moment, Frank knew there was something terribly wrong, the feeling in his legs was completely gone and he was unable to move. He was rushed to a clinic on a backboard where he was confined all night. "That was the first time I heard the word quadriplegic in association to my condition". He goes on to explain the panic and anxiety he lived, while painfully and helplessly spending his "Golden Hour" in that Mexican Clinic. That was night "Team Tank" was born. His friends and family showed their support immediately, making Team Tank hospital bracelets.

Frank is now confined to a wheelchair and spends 3 days a week at NextStep Fitness. A facility that was established in 2008 by Janne Kouri, a man that has also been stripped from independence. Determined to make a difference NextStep Fitness partnered with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation's NeuroRecovery Network to bring cutting edge training methods, procedures, and technologies to rehabilitation for people suffering from paralysis. NextStep Fitness' mission is to provide community-based, state-of-the-art fitness facilities for individuals suffering from paralysis at an affordable cost. Along with other members, NextStep Fitness has become Frank's second home.

Frank joined NextStep Fitness in May 2009, after Kristen vigorously searched for recovery options for her new husband. When he joined, he had very little upper-body movement. Christel Mitrovich, the Director of Locomotor Training here at NextStep has expressed his amazingly positive outlook, realistic personal goals and willingness to try something new. He has worked very hard on his arm movement, which was non-existent when he arrived, now able to raise both arms over his head. He is still working very hard on core strength and better arm control and looks forward to traveling more and becoming more independent in the future. The desire to get back to work was mentioned several times in our conversation as well as completing projects that were started before the wedding but now lay unfinished in his garage.

I asked Frank how this injury has changed him the most beyond the physical limitations. "Patience, I've never had patience," he said. Frank explains that you cannot be impatient in his situation, it would be impossible. Waiting for others to help with simple tasks is very difficult for someone who is used to doing everything themselves. Before he was more caught up in his own life with work and other things that he now finds to be quite insignificant. The time with friends and family is a commodity that has become Frank's first priority.

Just when you think these newlyweds have endured enough trauma, another obstacle lies in their path. This last February Kristin was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Doctors took her under the knife immediately finding a tumor the size of an orange. Only being able to remove half of the tumor, they went in a second time in May to recover the remains. Miraculously Kristen was back working full time in June shocking doctors with her speedy recovery.

Frank and Kristen Alioto's story is a compelling one to say the very least. It has captured the attention of many including, Tony Robbins who has done a special on Frank and his wife. The Tony Robbins crew followed Frank for two months including a trip to Fiji, which was his first big trip after the accident. His trip to Fiji opened his mind to the possibility to continue his travel adventures as he has come so accustomed to. They showed him the luxury was still available to him and his family, through different arrangements.

As far as "Team Tank" goes Kristen continues to stand strong by Frank's side and family support is solid as ever. There is no slowing down "Team Tank"; the newlyweds will finally go to Hawaii for their honeymoon in November, and plan to fill their calendar with new itineraries in 2011.

Written By, Kathleen Dougherty of NextStep Fitness

Medical Breakthroughs reported by Ivanhoe, "Wheelchair Workouts"
Medical Breakthroughs reported by Ivanhoe, "Wheelchair Workouts"
April 8, 2010

Every year, 11,000 people hear "you may never walk again," and the majority of them are in the prime of their lives. One young paraplegic who's defying the odds is helping others do the same, not through a new drug or a new surgery, but through exercise.

REUTERS, "For the physically disabled, fitness is key."
March 1, 2010

When Jothy Rosenberg was told after losing a leg and part of a lung to cancer that he would not survive, the teenager went to Utah and skied for 100 days straight.

It was followed by swimming, white water rafting, water skiing, and biking.

Now 36 years later, Rosenberg who is healthy and thriving, has founded six start-up tech companies, earned a PhD and become a grandfather.

Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, "NextStep Fitness: Community-based Recovery"
August 13, 2009

In the fitness world Janne Kouri is what they call an animal... a regular gym rat. He's got an ironman work ethic and a routine so relentless it puts many a serious athlete to shame. Kouri's not just training, though. He's recovering. Before: total paralysis. Now: walking with a walker.

New Mobility Magazine, "Locomotor Training: A Step in the Direction?"
New Mobility Magazine, "Locomotor Training: A Step in the Direction?"
August 1, 2009

LT is a difficult, sometimes fuzzy-edged scientific adventure, not a predictable task like learning to play Wii dodge ball with the kids.

When I first dropped by the Next Step Fitness Center, situated in a nondescript mini-mall in the Los Angeles suburb of Lawndale, Janne Kouri had been walking, or more precisely, stepping, with a walker for about two weeks. Three years ago Kouri, now 34, was playing volleyball on the beach and decided to dive into the ocean, hitting a sandbar and ending up a with a C5-6 incomplete SCI. In that stark nanosecond many paralyzed people have experienced, Kouri went from a former 280-pound defensive lineman at Georgetown to an immobile tetraplegic.

ABC's Good Morning America, "A Chance to Walk Again"
July 16, 2009

The Christopher Reeve Foundation explores revolutionary spinal cord therapies.

LOCAL FITNESS FACILITY CHANGES LIVES NEXT STEP BRINGS SOUTH BAY TOGETHER FOR ITS FIRST ANNUAL HERMOSA BEACH FUNDRAISER
March 30, 2009

Hermosa Beach, CA - March 30, 2009- NextStep, a non-profit rehabilitative fitness facility (www.nextstepfitness.org), announces its First Annual Hermosa Beach Fundraiser. This event will be held on April 30, 2009 at 7:30pm at Sangria Restaurant in Hermosa Beach. The event will kick off with an action packed live BMX Show by Team Soil, a group of elite BMX professionals. The show is free to the public and will take place behind Fat Face Fenner's Fishshack at 7:00pm.

There will be a VIP event at Bo Bridges photography gallery and an evening of live music, dancing, food, raffles and fun with friends and family at Sangria Restaurant. Special performances by Wayward Sons, Hollywood's infamous "Arena Rock" cover band and other entertaining activities will create a truly exciting evening.

The event is designed to unite the South Bay around a wonderful and needed cause, increasing awareness of disabled members of the area and raising funds that will enable NextStep to continue delivering essential fitness services to the disabled citizens of the local communities. NextStep is a state-of-the-art outpatient fitness center that brings the most cutting edge training methods, procedures, and technologies to rehabilitation for spinal injury, multiple sclerosis, stroke, and traumatic brain injury victims in the greater Los Angeles County. NextStep's clients come from all walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds; therefore NextStep offers its services at a fraction of what it costs to have the clients at the facility. This is the reason NextStep relies on charitable donations to operate.

NextStep Fitness was established by Hermosa local, Janne Kouri in June 2008 through a partnership with the Neurorecovery Network (NRN) and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Janne Kouri, fractured his C5 & C6 vertebrae when diving into the ocean from the Manhattan Beach shoreline in August 2006 and in an instant was paralyzed from the neck down. After two months in ICU at Cedars-Sinai, Janne and his wife Susan traveled to Louisville, KY to participate in Locomotor Training, a cutting edge rehabilitation therapy for individuals with Spinal Cord Injury. Locomotor Training is an activity-based therapy that attempts to retrain the spinal cord to "remember" the pattern of walking again. NextStep continues in operation today as the only community-based fitness facility specifically designed to enhance the recovery, wellness, and function of individuals in a cost effective manner. It is the only Locomotor Training Center west of Houston.

"The South Bay should take pride in having such a facility within this region and being the unique national beacon from which similar efforts can be established throughout the nation." says Reggie Edgerton, a Co-Chair and Professor of Physiological Science and a member of the Brain Research Institute at UCLA.

Janne Kouri adds, "I am truly thankful for the support we have received from the community and look forward to working together with the local businesses, city officials, community leaders & citizens, to help the disabled in the South Bay get the care they need."

NextStep Fitness is a registered 501(c)(3) organization (tax ID # 26-0678238)

The Beach Reporter, "Paralyzed local creates a fitness center for the disabled"
July 3, 2008

After an accident left Hermosa Beach resident Janne Kouri paralyzed from the neck down, he realized there was a dearth of local facilities to help him cope with his debilitating condition.

So he founded NextStep Fitness, a nonprofit fitness center for people who are dealing with physical disabilities.

Fitness facility for physically challenged adults to bring innovative Locomotor Training to the area NextStep partnering with Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation
May 1, 2008

NextStep Fitness, a California non-profit that provides fully accessible and adaptive equipment for physically challenged adults, will celebrate the opening of its new 3600 sq/ft. facility on June 5, 2008.

NextStep was created to deliver essential fitness services to the underserved community of para- and tetraplegics, as well as others with neurological impairments, in greater Los Angeles County. NextStep strives to improve levels of independence and quality of life through personalized fitness and wellness programs -- designed by both the client and trained staff.

In addition to activity-based exercise regiments, NextStep will be the first community-based fitness facility to offer the cutting-edge Locomotor Training to clients through a partnership with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Locomotor Training, an innovative intervention that helps individuals with gait impairments, has been proven to contribute to improved cardiovascular and pulmonary function, boosts the healing potential of the skin, helps increase bone density, and may improve bladder function.

NextStep president Janne Kouri suffered a paralyzing diving injury in August 2006, fracturing C5 and C6 vertabrae. He used Locomotor Training and activity-based exercise programs at a Kentucky-based facility to regain muscle strength, movement and general better health post his injury.

"Being the first in-patient to ever participate in the program, I was obviously slightly anxious and nervous," Mr. Kouri said. "But before I knew it, my toes started to wiggle and with each week I experienced more and more movement in my legs. Within a month I was able to step for an hour at a time with the assistance of my trainers. My health dramatically improved; my blood pressure, my overall strength and muscle tone, my cardio endurance, as well as my mental strength. Simply put, it felt great to stand up and "walk" again."

Upon returning home, Kouri was surprised at the lack of advanced fitness training options in California for individuals with disabilities. Janne and his wife Susan decided to create NextStep Fitness with the goal of affordable, client-focused fitness programs and researched-based training techniques.

NextStep will also offer Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) bicycles for its members. RT300 FES cycles have been proven to relax muscle spasms, prevent or retard disuse atrophy, increase local blood circulation, and maintain or even increase range of motion.

The public is invited to NextStep's grand opening on June 5th.