Janne Kouri of Hermosa Beach, California was told there was no hope for recovery from his freak accident. With the support of his girlfriend (now wife) Susan and a lot of determination, however, Kouri has turned the diagnosis that changed his life into his life’s work.
On August 5th, 2006, Kouri was playing beach volleyball with friends. He took a quick jog to the shore to cool off, and as he dove into the waves his head struck a hidden sandbar. Kouri was instantly paralyzed from the waist down.
“I knew something really bad had happened because I couldn’t move anything,” said Kouri, “There definitely was — a moment there where I was thinking that that could be my last breath.”
An off duty EMT pulled him from the waves and rushed him to the hospital, where Susan, was given the devastating news. The diagnosis was grim. Kouri had fractured his spine in two places, and treatment options were not plentiful.
“The doctor looked me right in the eye and said, ‘You need to be prepared for him never to walk again,'” Susan recalled. “I will never forget that.”
The couple wouldn’t give up, however, and Susan traveled the country to visit treatment centers until they found Dr. Susan Harkema at the Frazier Rehabilitation Institute in Louisville, Kentucky. Harkema was best known for her work with a new therapy called “loco-motor training,” that the late actor Christopher Reeve helped test. The therapy teaches the spinal cord how to control motor functions such as walking by repeating the motions.
The couple moved to Louisville and Kouri began treatment under Harkema’s care.
“The first day I got there they put me up on the treadmill and I passed out in seven seconds. Shortly after, within days after, I was able to stay up for ten, 15 minutes, and then an hour,” Kouri said. “Very quickly I started to get a lot stronger. My circulation improved, blood pressure improved, muscle strength.”
The treatment was challenging, but after just three months Kouri was able to move a toe, and that was only the beginning. Little by little, Kouri was able to get up and move about with the help of a walker, and finally able to stand on his own for short periods of time. That wasn’t enough for Kouri, who surprised his wife with the slow dance they missed after exchanging vows.
“You hear it all the time, but if you put your mind to it, you can make it happen. But you know it’s true that if you stay focused and work every single day, you really can do whatever you set your mind to,” he said.
Kouri set his mind to more than just his own recovery. When the couple wanted to move back home to California, they found that there was no place they could go to continue the therapy that was helping him, which also meant that no one else in the area could benefit from the treatment. So with the help of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, Kouri has helped launch Next Step Fitness, a non-profit rehab center that allows others to receive the same therapy option at an affordable cost.
To learn more about Kouri’s loco-motor training and Next Step Fitness rehabilitation center, please visit nextstepfitness.org.