Of all the people at a dedication ceremony Friday commending Cal State Northridge for its work in helping disabled people to live more independently, Jay Guttman had perhaps the highest praise.
The 45-year-old Northridge resident said the center's therapeutic programs helped him learn how to walk again after he was severely injured in a 1977 auto accident. "After the accident, doctors told my parents that I was going to die. Then they said that I was going to remain in a persistent vegetative state," Guttman said. "But I refused to accept that."
Guttman and 400 other people living with disabilities undergo rigorous therapeutic exercise programs at CSUN's Center for Achievement for the Physically Disabled, founded in 1960. Many of them are expected to use the newly opened Abbott and Linda Brown Western Center for Adaptive Aquatic Therapy, which was dedicated Friday.
The $6-million center was made possible through a $2-million grant from Abbott and Linda Brown's Ridgestone Foundation. Linda Brown is a university alumna. In addition, Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) secured $1 million in federal funding.
About 200 people with disabilities and their advocates were on hand at the ceremony, including Joni Eareckson Tada, who survived a 1967 diving accident that left her a quadriplegic and speaks about her ordeal internationally. She went through an exercise program at the university in 1979 that enabled her to drive a modified van.
"There are people in Southern California and beyond who are struggling against despair, fearful of living a life with a severe disability and stuck on geriatric wards who need help and hope," Tada said. "This will be a place where people will give them hope."
Inside the aquatics facility, an array of equipment and services is available to get disabled people functioning at a higher level. A pool with a movable floor allows clients in wheelchairs to be lowered into the water. A whirlpool spa has water jets positioned specifically for joint relief to relax muscles and reduce pain.
The main pool features two underwater treadmills for water resistance exercises for stroke rehabilitation, arthritis relief and muscular recovery. And a cool pool allows those who are sensitive to heat to participate in a fitness regimen.
Sam Britten, the centers' founder and director, said therapists believe there is no limit to what a client can achieve.
"Who knows the human potential?" he said. "We are only limited by our own expectations."
Guttman, who today walks without support and provides rehabilitative therapy to others with disabilities, agreed.
"With each session, I saw that I was coming back," he said, recalling his years of therapy at the center. "I kept moving to a higher level. It was incredible."