Bonner General Health event will raise funds to benefit those who have lost the ability to walk By Patty Hutchens, Bonner General Health Foundation Board
Life can change in an instant. That is something that Sandpoint resident Chris Owens knows all too well. Owens began a career in logging at the age of 21. Growing up and as a young man, he immersed himself in the adventures of hiking, hunting, skiing, and motorcycles. But that was taken away from him at the age of 30 when a tree fell on him, breaking his back and leaving him paralyzed.
Now 43 years old, Owens struggled for years. After his accident, his muscles atrophied, and he lost over 40 pounds. “It took me a number of years for my body to recover to the point where I didn’t have to nap daily,” said Owens.
Several years after his accident, Owens learned of a physical therapy device that changed his life. The Exoskeleton is a state-of-the-art wearable robotic that assists in gait training and mobility for those who have lost their ability to walk due to stroke, injury, multiple sclerosis, and more. With the assistance of the Exoskeleton and wrist canes, Owens was able to walk for the first time in over a decade.
“Every time I would use it (the Exoskeleton) it made my legs feel super hot,” he explained. “It was nice to feel something. I knew if they feel hot that something was going on.”
Unfortunately, the nearest place with an Exoskeleton is in Wenatchee, Washington—a four-hour drive one way. Owens traveled there eight times a year, and each visit allowed him 30 minutes in the Exoskeleton—totaling only four hours of therapy a year.
“Each time I went, I would get something back,” said Owens. “Once it (a muscle group) fired, it would stay there. The little bit I was able to use the suit made a definite difference. I was able to get muscle response started in my lower abdomen and hips. That may not sound like a lot, but just being able to sit and lean over with more stability has made life easier.”
The travel became tiresome, and as the father of four children and an interruption with COVID, Owens has not been back in a few years.
But now Bonner General Health Foundation is working to make such therapy available for Owens and many more in the community.
“Last year Michelle Tucker, manager of the Physical Therapy Department at BGH, presented this information to the Foundation Board,” said Bonner General Health Foundation president Justin Dick. "We knew we had to bring this piece of equipment to Sandpoint, and we are currently working to do just that."
The Foundation introduced its Find Your Strength campaign in July. Their goal is to raise $200,000 for the cost of the Exoskeleton and an accompanying FES bike, which uses electrical current to cause muscle contractions by stimulating peripheral nerves.
“With our aging population and being a place of outdoor adventure, there is likely to be a higher rate of strokes and injuries,” said Molly Behrens, community development coordinator for Bonner General Health. “Having this technology at Bonner General Health would provide an incredible service to our patients and the entire Inland Northwest.”
As part of the Find Your Strength campaign, Bonner General Health Foundation is hosting a Find Your Strength 5k/1k Fun Run and Family Day on Saturday, September 24.
“The Foundation has always looked toward hosting an event of this type, and with so many events such as Boobs and Beer, Celebrate Life and Jacey’s Race no longer taking place, this afforded us a perfect opportunity to provide our community with an event while also raising money for a worthy cause,” said Dick. "We are looking forward to eventually add a 10k and half-marathon."
This all-ability family fun run will include an after-party for the entire family complete with music, food, drinks, magicians, face painting and more. Both races begin and end at Sandpoint City Beach, with the after-party taking place on the lawn at Trinity at City Beach.
Children 8 and younger can participate for free, and registration is at a reduced price of $20 for ages 9 to 17. Adults are $45 if you register ahead of time and $50 the day of the event. If people are unable to attend the race but would like to participate in the after-party, all are invited.
"The community has generously embraced our mission over the past several years, and we are extremely grateful,” said Dick. “With our growing population and the ever-expanding need for health-care services, we are always looking for ways to meet the needs of our residents. This event will go far to reach many who may not be as familiar with Bonner General Health and educate them about our services.”
Owens is hopeful that the Find Your Strength campaign will result in many locals who can benefit the way he has from this unique device. With the strength he has gained from the Exoskeleton, Owens is now able to ski and hunt, and recently began to mountain bike.
“It would be nice to have the Exoskeleton local so that other people can benefit from it—not only to enjoy the feeling of standing up and walking but also get the benefits that come with it as far as recovery,” said Owens. “I feel like if I had been able to access the Exoskeleton right after my injury, I would probably be able to walk now.”
To learn more about the Find Your Strength campaign and to register for the event, go to BonnerGeneral.org/foundation.