The first question Fabio Angelini asked his medical team when he arrived at Toronto Rehab Lyndhurst Centre as a spinal cord injury patient in a wheelchair, was whether he would ever play golf again.
They couldn't promise him anything.
Two-and-a-half months on, thanks to personal determination and the combined efforts of the physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and therapeutic recreation team, Fabio is now standing with some assistance, and back playing golf again, too.
Promoting the benefits of therapeutic recreation was the focus of the recent Lyndhurst Games – an event aimed at introducing patients to the possibilities of participating in adapted sports and leisure activities with the hope that they incorporate it into their own therapy.
This year's Canada 150-themed Games brought together more than 200 patients, staff, volunteers, and family members to try different adapted sports and recreational activities such as handcycling, wheelchair basketball, and bocce ball, in a friendly competition between the four spinal cord injury inpatient and outpatient units.
"What we strive to do is to really promote being active in the community," says Nicole Leong, organizer and recreation therapist at Lyndhurst. "Not only physically active but also engaging socially with peers again."
Redefining limitations with adapted sports
This is the third Lyndhurst Games since the inaugural event five years ago. After the two previous games, the centre noticed a much higher participation in the recreation and leisure programs.
For patients who might feel apprehensive at first, having staff members play alongside can put them more at ease.
"When the patient participates with a staff member who they know, like one of their therapists or nurses, the patients are so much more willing to try it," says Nicole.
She explains that once patients leave rehab, they are at risk for becoming house-bound and disengaged from the community and physical activity, which could lead to additional health issues like depression, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
Fabio, a graphic designer, had six herniated discs at the middle and upper part of his spine stemming from two lower back surgeries a decade ago. He plans to go home at the end of August, and his goal is to walk out without any type of assistance.
Participating in therapeutic recreation through playing bocce ball and golf during his stay has allowed Fabio to stay optimistic and focused on recovery.
"It made me feel happy because they have a lot of things to do just to keep you busy and your mind is completely away from the problems and every issue you have," says Fabio.
Approaching recovery with a new attitude
Dr. Sivakumar Gulasingam, physiatrist at Lyndhurst specializing in parasports and men's health, says that sports and recreation are important elements of ongoing recovery and rehabilitation. It improves a patient's quality of life, including physical, social, and psychological well-being.
Having worked with athletes and para-athletes nationally and internationally, Dr. Gulasingam has seen first-hand the impact of sports in helping people look beyond their impairments, overcome challenges and set new goals.
"[Anyone] who is involved in sports, whether at amateur, recreational or professional level, their mindset is completely changed and they get into a never-give-up attitude," says Dr. Gulasingam.
When Lyndhurst patient Emily Schmidt first saw therapeutic recreation on her calendar, she grimly imagined group sing-alongs and making macramé plant hangers. That all changed when she tried an adapted sports chair to play tennis.
"The sense of freedom that I had to be able to roll around and hit a tennis ball against a wall practically brought tears to my eyes," says Emily.
She had a lymphoma tumour on her spine which was treated with surgery and radiation, but the damage caused her to lose proprioception – sensory perception or positional sense – of her limbs from the waist down. After completing two months of inpatient rehab, she now attends physiotherapy twice a week as an outpatient.
For her, the event is about helping patients realize that it's possible to overcome their challenges and to stay positive by learning about the options available.
"Without [therapeutic recreation], I think there would be a large missing piece of that recovery program because it helps obviously with physical health, but also mental well-being," says Emily. "The two are synonymous."