One year in, Lawrence foundation helping people who have had medical catastrophes regain their abilities

Sam Porritt, of Lawrence, is the founder of Falling Forward Foundation, which provides therapy to people with catastrophic injuries or illnesses whose insurance benefits have run out.

On Thursday at Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s outpatient rehab unit, Ed Corporal did lunges while holding onto parallel bars and being spotted by his physical therapist. A few feet away, Lisa Clark lay on her stomach on a padded platform, lifting her arm behind her back to try to regain strength in her upper body.

Neither of them would have been there had Sam Porritt not fallen off that wall three years ago while photographing the Italian countryside.

Corporal and Clark are among the first beneficiaries of Porritt’s Falling Forward Foundation, which financially supports people recovering from catastrophic medical issues and whose insurance coverage has run out.

Porritt, of Lawrence, got the idea for the foundation after discovering that his own policy paid for unlimited therapy visits, a rarity in the market. This allowed him to start walking again after initially being paralyzed from the waist down.

During his rehab, he met many people who stopped going after using up their allotted appointments. He found that the industry standard was about 25 to 30 therapy visits per year, which he thought left many people who could have recovered instead getting government-sponsored disability insurance. He began the Falling Forward Foundation on Oct. 1, 2013.

“So much conversation is on disability. Our mission is the opposite of that,” said the 51-year-old Porritt, who recently underwent spinal surgery in Colorado to fix some rods and screws that had broken in his back. “Our mission is to talk about ability, and to spend the money on rehab to help people get those abilities back.”

Porritt’s eventual goals are to take his foundation nationwide and pass legislation that would remove the caps on therapy visits. For now, he’s doing exactly what he set out to do last fall: help people recovering from medical catastrophes reach their potential. His foundation has so far provided grants to 12 patients at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, the Rehabilitation Institute of Kansas City and Craig Hospital in Denver, including three people in Lawrence. Here are their stories:

The coach

Lawrence resident Ed Corporal dips down while doing lunges with his physical therapist, Brian Klamm, at Lawrence Memorial Hospital Therapy Services on Thursday. Corporal says his therapy has brought him a long way since suffering a stroke about a year ago.

Being a longtime leader of athletes has inspired Ed Corporal as he recovers from a September 2013 stroke. He knew he couldn’t preach discipline and resiliency to numerous basketball and volleyball players over the years and practice the opposite in his own life.

“I can’t be no hypocrite,” he said during a break between physical and occupational therapy Thursday.

After the stroke, Corporal, who was a coach and educator at Perry-Lecompton High School, spent four-and-a-half months at LMH’s inpatient therapy unit and another two at a rehab facility in Tonganoxie. He started outpatient therapy at LMH in the early spring.

Several weeks later, his therapist told him his insurance company would soon stop paying for his appointments. Corporal, who was still using a walker and wheelchair to get around, thought he was nowhere near ready to stop rehabbing.

The therapist also informed him about the Falling Forward Foundation. Corporal applied for a grant and was accepted. Now he goes to physical and occupational therapy about three times a week each, trying to rebuild the muscles in his left arm and leg.

Like any good coach, Corporal, a 51-year-old father of five who lives in Lawrence, continues to set goals: He wants to get rid by the cane by January, be running again by this time next year and eventually — you guessed it — coach again. Not that he expects any of it to be easy.

“As an athlete in high school, you think about when you run and do sprints and suicides and how hard that is,” he said. “This is probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life.”

The teacher

Lisa Clark, of Valley Falls, winces as she works on small leg lifts with therapist Suzie Craig at Lawrence Memorial Hospital Therapy Services on Thursday. Clark broke her back and injured her spinal cord when she fell off a horse last October. Clark has benefitted from the Falling Forward Foundation, which helps those suffering from traumatic injuries receive therapy after their insurance runs out.

Lisa Clark, a former elementary educator in Lawrence, used to bring therapy dogs to class to ease the anxieties of students with special needs. Last year, after Clark fell off a horse and cracked a vertebra in her spine, her friends brought the dogs to the Topeka rehabilitation center where she was a patient to cheer her up.

Clark, of Valley Falls, returned to her beloved canines last December and soon began outpatient rehab. In the spring, however, her insurance benefits expired. So she went back home, only able to take a few steps with a walker before she had to sit down in her wheelchair.

That’s when a friend told her the Falling Forward Foundation might be able to help her continue physical therapy. Clark applied and, shortly after, resumed her rehabilitation.

Several months later, she’s now able to take 240 steps at a time, twice a day, using her walker. At LMH, her physical therapist teaches her proper walking techniques and posture, something she wouldn’t have gotten at home. Clark is also learning how to get up from the floor by herself, a critical skill to have because her husband travels for work and she’s often home alone.

“She came here at just the right time to advance,” said her therapist, Suzie Craig, as she helped Clark walk across the gym floor at LMH. “She’s probably quadrupled her walking since then.”

Though Clark retired from the Lawrence school district following her injury, she still has dreams of one day returning to teaching. So do her dogs.

“I think they miss going to school,” she said. “They just loved going every day, seeing hundreds of kids. They were in heaven.”

The grandmother

Caroline Hicks, left, works on an upper body ergometer during occupational therapy with Lawrence Memorial Hospital therapist Maria Perdikis on Friday. Hicks has been able to continue her therapy with the help of the Falling Forward Foundation, which provides therapy to people with catastrophic injuries of illnesses whose insurance benefits have run out.

Caroline Hicks says her June 2013 stroke “rocked my whole world — that’s the nicest possible way to put it.” It left her legally blind and paralyzed on one side of her body. Doctors also discovered the 52-year-old had undiagnosed diabetes and hypertension.

Hicks, who had been a training officer at a Kansas City call center, went on to spend months at rehabilitation hospitals in Kansas and Nebraska. When she was discharged, however, she was still using a wheelchair and had to move in with her parents in her native Lawrence.

She did physical, occupational and speech therapy at LMH until she ran out of visits in February. A therapist told her she’d be a perfect fit for the Falling Forward Foundation. The foundation agreed.

Eight months later, Hicks is walking again. The mobility in her hand and arm is much improved. She recently moved into her own place.

Most importantly to Hicks, she’s now able to keep up with her five grandkids, who are all under the age of 9.

“I’m Native American, and I participate in pow-wows,” she said. “One of my goals was to help my grandchildren learn their culture. I just danced at the Haskell welcome back pow-wow. I was in pain and I took a cane, but I was able to do it.”

If not for Sam Porritt and Falling Forward, Hicks figures she’d still be living with her parents — and she certainly wouldn’t be dancing.

“Sam’s an inspiration. He affected a positive change in my life and other people who are going through this program,” she said. “The effect on my life has been unbelievable. To be able to get out and get around is one thing, but to be able to be a presence in my grandchildren’s lives and my children’s lives is unbelievably important to me.”