Health Check: Y offers adaptive exercise equipment

The Newman YMCA in Seekonk is expanding its efforts to reach out to people with varying abilities.

Dr. Gary Witman, of Providence, was once an emergency room doctor in Brockton, Mass. But on Aug. 31, 2010, while on the beach in Narragansett, he found himself in the emergency room.

"I was 30 feet from the shore, just standing, looking at the shore, just got hit in the back of the neck by a wave," Witman said.

Doctors were able to save his life, but he was told he'd never get off a ventilator or feel anything below the neck.

"So now he has sensation a little below the nipple line, which is huge. He's able to move his arms," said Witman's wife, Dee Dee. "He has biceps and triceps."

It's a small piece of workout equipment that's making a difference. While his wife is on the treadmill at the Newman Y in Seekonk, Dr. Witman is getting in his workout. He's able to move his legs, with help, thanks to a piece of adaptive equipment known as the FES bike.

"Functional electronic stimulation bicycle with an arm unit, and what it does is it basically works Dr. Gary Witman's legs so that they will function, actually peddle the bike without his help from his brain but actually having the muscles directly stimulated," said Luca del Borgo of the Newman Y.

Then there's Devon Quigley, son of pro golfer, Dana Quigley. Devon was involved in a car crash in Florida less than two years ago.

"The doctor said to him that there was no hope. He wasn't going to make it," Charlotte Quigley, Devon's mother, said.

Devon defied those odds. But his injuries were so severe that he spends much of his time in a wheelchair and communicates through eye movements. Finding the Newman Y was equipped with the cycle was like striking gold.

"It was a perfect set up for Devon. He came here and Luca and Joe are unbelievable," Charlotte Quigley said.

Luca and Joe are specially trained to work with people with varying abilities. The FES bike works Devon's arms so they don't waste away. And while electrodes help stimulate his muscles, over time, he's been doing more of the work on his own.

"It's got to be unbelievable to him to feel himself actually peddling or moving his arms," Dana Quigley said. "What it's doing in his own mind has to be the most encouraging thing."

"In terms of its benefit to me, I've improved in terms of muscle tone, muscle strength by approximately 40 percent," Dr. Witman said. "It's absolutely terrific both in terms of dignity and conditioning."

The Newman Y in Seekonk has 14 pieces of adaptive fitness equipment and it has plans to expand.