May 27, 2022

How PTA Students Are Helping the MS Community to “Just Keep Moving”

By B&SC Blog Team

How PTA Students Are Helping the MS Community to “Just Keep Moving”

Just over a decade ago, Dan Erschen couldn’t walk, feed himself, or tie his shoes. Desperate to improve his debilitating multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms, he turned to exercise as an outlet and a way to rebuild strength. Through following a strict regimen, he regained his ability to walk, and then jog, and, eventually, run. Fast forward a few years later, Dan had completed six triathlons and three Ironman competitions.

Through his own experience, Erschen saw the significant benefits that exercise had on alleviating MS symptoms. “I was blessed to get my mobility back through consistent movement and training. I wanted to share that with other members of the MS community that were struggling like I had been.”

So, he did just that. In 2013, Erschen founded the non-profit MS Just Keep Moving to help others living with the disease gain back their independence. He built a gym inside his Wisconsin Metal Parts factory in Waukesha, W.I., and opened it for free to community members living with MS that wanted to take action against their degenerative symptoms.

Three years ago, Bryant & Stratton College Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) Program Director Becky Thomas learned about the gym. Identifying the initiative as a great example to showcase the benefits of movement to her students, she asked Erschen to come speak to her class. Erschen agreed, and by the end of the presentation, Thomas was eager to get her students more involved.

Today, Thomas’s class spends every Wednesday morning volunteering at the gym and helping 40-60 patrons navigate machinery, stretch, and push themselves to meet their goals. One of those students is Carla Rodriguez, who credits the experience for providing her with meaningful academic and personal growth.

“We’re learning manual therapy to help the patients exercise, but also accomplish tasks like walking up stairs or stepping from pavement to grass. It gives you a new perspective on what’s important in life and it has made me so grateful for things I would typically take for granted,” said Rodriguez.

Opportunities like these are why Rodriguez chose the College in the first place, citing the small class sizes and hands-on learning opportunities as her reasons for enrolling. Additionally, the program’s diverse curriculum and special partnerships provide students with niche learning opportunities that will help them in their careers.

About volunteering at the MS gym, Rodriguez said, “There are very few PTA programs that allow students to work with patients whose mobility is impacted by their neurology. At the gym, we get to see how the disease manifests in different people and how to address their muscular challenges.”

This appreciation of the unique structure of the program is shared by her classmate, Gregory Wunrow. Wunrow has worked in the fitness industry for over seven years, and he has seen firsthand how exercise can improve people’s lives. When he witnessed his own parents getting older and struggling with movement, he decided to explore opportunities in PTA to help others with similar experiences. Since enrolling, Bryant & Stratton’s program has continued to exceed his expectations.

“I went to a four-year college before coming to Bryant & Stratton, and this program is so much better than my previous experience. Our professors make complex topics palatable and the knowledge we gain through working with partners like the MS gym has made me feel prepared for a number of different career opportunities after I graduate.”

For Wunrow, volunteering at the MS gym has been an emotional and rewarding experience. He has seen firsthand the benefits of PT, encouragement, and a helping hand in pushing patients to reach goals they didn’t know were possible.

“We have seen patients come in who are completely reliant on others get their independence back as they build their mobility,” said Wunrow. “The College has found a way to create training opportunities through giving back to our community, and I’m so grateful that my schoolwork is bettering the lives of others.”

Visit the Bryant & Stratton College website for more information on the PTA degree program.

Related News