The University of Michigan Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation is being recognized for its relationship with an inspiring Olympic athlete.
The U-M’s innovative work in spinal cord injury rehabilitation has long been supported by the Fraternal Order of Eagles which honored the U-M in June during a statewide convention in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Following their family’s journey, the FOE’s Paul and Shirley Hypio championed spinal cord research to help others like Paul Shulte, captain of the U.S.A. Wheelchair Basketball team, who suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury during a car accident in March 1989.
Thanks to the team-oriented work of the U-M’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation program he would go far beyond restoring function and independence. He would join a world stage.
“Immediately after (the accident), there were some very important things that happened,” says Shulte, of Manchester, Mich. “First I received the care that I needed from the doctors and therapists at the University of Michigan spinal cord injury unit. But also I had family right beside me, my faith and my community. Those things enabled me to see that I was the same person after the accident as I was before.”
For the then 14-year-old, wheelchair basketball was a major part of his rehabilitation.
“As soon as I found out I could play sports again I grabbed on to it,” he says. “The concept of representing my country some day in the Paralympic games became my life’s dream.”
He’s helped bring home many titles since he joined the team. These include the bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Games, and gold medals at the 1998 and 2002 World Championships, where Paul also won MVP. The team also took gold at the Parapan American Games in 1999, 2007 and 2011.
In the most recent Paralympics in Beijing, Schulte played on the U.S. team, which was eliminated in double overtime by Canada. He and the men’s team are working hard to return to the podium in London this month.
In a moving video that aired during the FOE convention, Shulte thanks the U-M Spinal Cord Injury Unit for its part in his victorious life as an athlete and mechanical engineer.
“That unit saved my life and put me on the road to a fulfilling one,” he says.
The Spinal Cord Injuries Model Systems program at the U-M is one of only 14 institutions selected by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. The specialized programs were created so that researchers can find ways to improve people’s recovery and analyze how well patients do in all aspects of their lives after a spinal cord injury.