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Bonner General Health Foundation working to change lives

by PATTY HUTCHENS Contributing Writer
| July 31, 2022 1:00 AM

Sandpoint resident Chris Owens is a father of four children, a skier, a hunter and a mountain biker. He is also paralyzed. Just over 12 years ago, Owens was injured in a logging accident; an occupation he had held since he was 21.

While Owens, now 43, is able to be active in spite of his paralysis, he believes that if he had been introduced to a certain therapy immediately after his accident that he would be able to walk today.

For several years following his accident, Owens was fatigued and his muscles atrophied. He napped daily and lost a great deal of weight and strength. It was not until he learned of a therapeutic device called an Exoskeleton that he was able to regain some of his strength. It 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,” explained Owens. “It was nice to feel something. I knew if they felt hot that something was going on.”

Unfortunately for Owens and many like him, the closest facility with an Exoskeleton is in Wenatchee, Wash. – an approximate four-hour drive one way. Owens traveled to 
Wenatchee eight times a year, utilizing the device for 30 minutes each time. He has not returned since the onset of COVID.

“The little bit I was able to use the suit made a definite difference. It was able to get muscle response started in my lower abdomen and hips. That may not sound like a lot, but just being to sit and lean over with more stability has made life easier,” said Owens.

With the increase in population in our area, especially of those in retirement age, the Bonner General Health Foundation believes an Exoskeleton would be a great benefit to not only those in North Idaho but throughout the Inland Northwest.

“If we are able to purchase an Exoskeleton for use by our Physical Therapy department, we would be the only hospital in Idaho to offer this type of therapy,” said Community Development Coordinator for Bonner General Health Molly Behrens.

To that end, the Bonner General Health Foundation Board announced July 1 its Find Your Strength campaign and hopes to raise the $200,000 needed for the purchase of an Exoskeleton and an accompanying FES bike which uses electrical current to cause muscle contractions by stimulating peripheral nerves.

Several businesses, including Capstone CPAs, Trinity at City Beach, and AGP Wealth Advisors have stepped forward to match contributions of up to $5,000. The 219 Lounge, ClearWater Gear and Blue Sky Broadcasting have also donated of $2,500 each as gold sponsors. In addition, Donna Hutter has also graciously donated $5,000 toward the Foundation’s efforts.

“It’s been amazing to see the support we have already received since announcing our campaign on July 1,” said Behrens.

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, Sept. 24.

“The Foundation has always looked towards 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 Justin Dick, Bonner General Health Foundation president. "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 under 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 Bonner General Health Foundation Trustees are always looking for ways to support Bonner General Health. With an ever-growing population and diverse needs among the community, they are enthusiastic about the lives that will be changed.

“This will be an amazing addition to our Physical Therapy Department,” said Board Trustee Grant Simmons, adding that it only takes one therapist to assist the patient in the Exoskeleton, freeing up others to serve other patients.

As for Chris Owens, he is excited and supportive of the foundation’s efforts.

“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.

photo

(Courtesy photo)

Chris Owens is pictured in an Exoskeleton — 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.

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