Written by Corinne Garcia Tuesday, December 13 2011Snapshot: Erica Coulston, president, Walk the Line to SCI Recovery
|The boss as client|
In March 2003, Coulston became the first American to have Dr. Carlos Lima’s olfactory mucosa autografts (OMA) tissue transplant surgery in Portugal. That was followed up with a rigorous exercise-based training program that has been vital to her ongoing recovery. After her experiences seeking out recovery programs, Coulston realized that in order for others to have inspiration and hope for their own spinal cord injury (SCI) recovery, she needed to start her own program.
In 2007, with her husband and parents, Coulston started Walk the Line to SCI Recovery, a Southfield, Mich.-based program to promote and achieve recovery from a spinal cord injury.
“Walk The Line to SCI Recovery,” as stated on the website, “challenges the rules of traditional rehab by breaking down paradigms of hierarchy, including our clients in goal setting, creating unique program designs, encouraging interaction and socialization among clients, caregivers, family members, and staff.”
Womenetics: Tell me about the inspiration behind Walk the Line to SCI Recovery.
Erica Coulston: I was diagnosed with a C6/7 spinal cord injury, complete and American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) Level A. Because of the severity of my injury, I was not given opportunities for recovery from traditional medical professionals during my inpatient stay. Very early on in my injury, my parents and I wished there was a “recovery” program, a sort of mecca, if you will, where anything was possible. I have never looked for a doctor, therapist, or practitioner to “heal” me. I’ve looked for those that would be willing to say, “Maybe…” And from this, the dream of what Walk the Line was born.
Womenetics: How did the dream turn into a realization?
Coulston: Walk the Line to SCI Recovery was founded in July 2007, so it took almost six years for the path to lead me to where I actually needed to be. Along the way I encountered different programs and practitioners that helped mold the vision of the recovery program that we wanted to start. In fact, I actually was kicked out of a program for advocating for myself and ultimately from that experience was thrown into realizing our dream. From the day that my parents, my husband, Ira, and I decided to start Walk the Line to SCI Recovery, it took us three weeks to find a temporary location, staff, and minimal equipment.
Womenetics: What were some of the key components, after being through this yourself, that you knew you wanted to implement into Walk the Line?
Coulston: Walk the Line has to be a place of possibilities and empowerment. We strive to provide the most aggressive and effective recovery therapy in the world, as well as providing an environment that encourages good health, community values, and independence.
Womenetics: How does Walk the Line compare to the other rehabs that you experienced?
Coulston: It doesn’t. It’s as simple as that. We are truly a client-run and client-driven facility whose sole reason and purpose for existence is recovery from a spinal cord injury. We are different on so many levels: our protocol, our staffing model, our equipment, our philosophy.
|Working out at the business she founded|
Coulston: In addition to helping our clients achieve their goals for physical recovery, there is an element of social and psychological recovery. Our program is designed to empower our clients in their physical and social progress. Our clients are encouraged to take an active role in their recovery therapy, and this, hopefully, carries over into other aspects of their lives. We want individuals to realize they are consumers who are paying for a service, whether it’s their physician, physical therapy, durable medical equipment, or anything else. We don’t have to be “patients.” I like to think of myself as an “impatient!”
Womenetics: Is it organized like a business?
Coulston: Walk the Line to SCI Recovery operates as a successful, privately owned small business. I am a co-owner along with Ira and my parents, Fred and Rita Nader.
Womenetics: What’s your role today?
Coulston: I am the president and director of operations. I’m not only an active client, but I also manage the floor staff and coordinate the client schedules. I am an advocate for disability rights and an accessibility consultant as well.
Womenetics: How has Walk the Line helped in your own recovery process?
Coulston: My physical recovery progressed exponentially due to the staffing ratio – two trainers for every client – and aggressive weight-bearing protocol established by our medical director, Dr. Steven Hinderer. Emotionally and psychologically I am in the best place that I have been since my injury. Being around our clients who are in similar situations has helped me tremendously. I am inspired daily by the determination and motivation of each of them. Our staff of physical therapists and trainers has pushed me physically and mentally to a place where my recovery is flourishing.
Womenetics: What has been your biggest challenge in setting this up?
Coulston: The biggest challenge for me has been balancing the demands of running a growing business and making the time to commit to my own recovery. They are both full-time jobs.
Womenetics: Where did the funding come from to start and grow your business?
Coulston: Walk the Line to SCI Recovery was self-funded from money that I had saved for a “rainy day.” Fortunately I have been able to pay myself back over the last four years.
Womenetics: What do you do to build for the future growth?
Coulston: The foundation of a business is the relationships that you create, and this helps prepare for future growth. In our case, we build long-lasting relationships with our clients, case managers, doctors, and other service providers that have all come to know and respect our commitment to providing quality customized recovery programs to each of our clients. And with these relationships, we will continue to do so.
Womenetics: Who has inspired you and mentored you the most?
Coulston: My husband, Ira, is amazing. He is very supportive and levelheaded. I have learned a lot from my parents, Fred and Rita. They have run many small businesses together and have been supportive role models throughout this process. Our staff and clients are, hands down, some of the best people I know. Also, I am fortunate to have family and friends who are daily sources of inspiration and motivation.
Womenetics: What do you do to take time for yourself outside of work?
Coulston: Being part of a small, family-owned business is definitely a full-time job with non-traditional hours. There is no punching out at 4:30, but I am learning to set aside times of the day to focus on work, my recovery, my family, and having a bit of fun, too. My husband and I like to get together with friends, walk our dog, and go for the occasional swim.
Corinne Garcia is a freelance writer and editor living with her husband and two young boys in Bozeman, Mont. She has also written for Women’s Adventure, Christian Science Monitor, Northwest Travel, Pregnancy, Fit Pregnancy, and Fit Parent.