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Special Tree’s Adaptive Sports Experience Shows What’s Possible After Life-Altering Injury

Once an avid golfer, Gerry hadn’t touched a golf club since a spinal cord injury left him in a wheelchair six years ago.  But all that changed when he picked up an adaptive golf club at Special Tree’s Adaptive Sports Experience on June 28th at Willow Metropark.

“I can still swing and miss,” he said with a chuckle.  But there was much more to Gerry’s swing than hitting the ball.  “Instead of focusing on what I can’t do, I’m here to see what I can do,” he said.  

Helping Gerry and others to see what’s possible after a life-changing injury is what the Adaptive Sports Experience is all about says Recreational Therapist Kristin Claerhout.  The annual free event is organized by Special Tree’s Recreational Therapy team to showcase outdoor activities that can be adapted to accommodate all ability levels. 

“A lot of people feel like their lives are over after a catastrophic injury,” said Kristin.  “People might have to do an activity a little differently, but they can still enjoy an active lifestyle.  It’s really eye-opening for participants to find that joy and quality of life again and to participate in things they enjoyed before their injury.”

This year’s event drew over 100 participants from Special Tree and the Metro Detroit area and featured adaptive kayaking, biking, golf, fishing, tennis, and yoga.   Recreational Therapists, volunteers, and representatives from Riverside Kayak Connection and Michigan Adaptive Sports who provided adaptive equipment, all provided hands-on instruction and support throughout the day to help participants safely enjoy the event.  

"The event was a lot of fun," said Gerry, who also rode an adaptive bike, went kayaking, and caught two fish.  

 “Participation in sports and other recreational activities becomes as much about regaining confidence as it is about working on functional skills and rebuilding physical strength,” said Kristen.  "Our goal for the event is to help people get that confidence back into their personal lives and encourage them to try more activities."

























Bright Lights, Big Savings

Things are looking brighter around Special Tree with the installation of hundreds of new LED light fittings. Our fabulous Facilities Maintenance team have converted hundreds of conventional bulbs to LEDs at the NeuroCare Campus, Industrial Operations Center, Troy NeuroSkills Center, and The Leadership Center and it’s paying off in big ways.

Since the conversion project began in 2017, LEDs have not only produced better light quality, these highly energy-efficient lights have helped Special Tree cut their carbon footprint while also saving money.

“Although LEDs are more expensive up front, they’re dramatically more cost-effecctive in the long run,” said Jim Richert, Facilities Maintenance Director. For over a year, he has kept close track of the costs and energy savings at locations where LEDs have been installed.   “Because LED lights use up to 80 percent less energy, our power usage and bills have gone way down,” said Jim.   Since installing LEDs in the parking at Special Tree's NeuroCare Campus over a year ago, energy consumption was reduced by 70%.   At our Troy NeuroSkills Center, energy bills for the year were reduced by $4000 after the LED conversion. 

LEDs also have added benefits like long-life and maintenance savings.  Because LEDs last five times longer than conventional bulbs, our maintenance staff doesn't need to replace them as often. Prior to converting the lights, maintenance staff at the Troy location replaced about six bulbs per week.  At the NeuroCare Campus, staff were replacing 18 conventional bulbs per year at $40/bulb in the exterior parking lot.  "The process to change the parking lot lights also required two people and a 16’ ladder so the LEDs have also helped mitigate risk,” said Jim.

Both the extended life and reduced power of LEDs have a lot to do with the fact that they burn much cooler than fluorescent bulbs. At the NeuroCare Center South, LEDs have also reduced air conditioning costs by approximately $500 per year.

LED conversions are in the works for Special Tree locations throughout Wayne, Oakland, Midland, Saginaw, Macomb, and Monroe counties.  

Special Tree Launches “ZeroG,” Robotic Body-Weight Rehab Support System


ZeroG Gait and Balance System provides dynamic, body-weight support, mimicking falls to provide real-time biofeedback.

Special Tree is thrilled to announce the launch of a new, cutting-edge rehab support system to help patients relearn walking after traumatic injury. The system was installed at the NeuroCare Center in early June. Following extensive training, therapists began using the system almost immediately and it has been in steady use ever since. 

"We are already seeing an impact on our patients," shared Nicole LeBaron, Physical Therapy Assistant. "Without Zero G, it could take several therapists to help a person stand up and walk. With this new system, they are able to build the confidence needed to regain independence.." 

The ZeroG Gait and Balance Training System by Aretech is a robotic body-weight support system that allows individuals recovering from traumatic events such as a brain or spinal cord injury to participate in safe, high-intensity rehabilitation much sooner in the treatment process, igniting the body’s recovery.

ZeroG provides interactive balance programs and games, with biofeedback, challenging the patient physically and cognitively while teaching them how to anticipate a loss of balance. Without the risk of falling, patients have the confidence to push boundaries and practice functional and real-world activities such as walking, getting up from a chair or the floor, climbing stairs and doing squats.

“The more patients are able to get up to walk, the better their recovery results are going to be,” says Megen Allen, Special Tree Director of Therapy Services. “In recovery, patients who walk more than 1,400 steps per day have better outcomes.”

ZeroG harnesses fit every size. The system has a dynamic body-weight support that can offload a person’s weight by up to 200 pounds, making them feel lighter in a reduced gravity environment. This allows patients to practice therapy at high-intensity levels sooner after an injury than previously possible.

“You can work on all aspects of gait walking,” Allen says. “Floor transfers, sit-to-stand activities and advanced balanced activities. It does everything from the bare minimum of just getting off the floor to running sprints.”

Different gait patterns are characterized by differences in limb movement patters, overall velocity, forces, kinetic and potential energy cycles, and changes in the contact with the surface.

“When a patient falls, you can see if their natural reaction is there because the system catches them,” Allen adds. “It protects them from falling but reveals whether natural reflexes are kicking in.”

As an individual progresses, therapists can decrease the amount of support so the patient can function more under his or her own capabilities. And because the system protects patients from falling, therapists encourage patients to push their limits without fear.

“We’re excited to be first facility in Metro Detroit to offer this level of cutting-edge capability to help people heal faster,” says Special Tree Vice President & Director, Jack Richert. “We made this investment because it provides a better chance at recovery for our patients and allows us to explore better ways to help individuals function more independently at home, at work and in the community.”


2018 Scholarship Winners Announced!

Special Tree offers a $1000 annual high school scholarship to college-bound students who attend public schools where Special Tree has a facility located within that district.

The scholarships assist winners with tuition as they pursue a career in rehabilitation or a related healthcare field. This is one criteria upon which the scholarships are awarded, along with academic achievement, community service, extra-curricular activities, responses to essay questions, and letters of recommendation.

This year, Special Tree awarded 13 scholarships.  Congratulations to the following graduates:

Anderson High School, Southgate – Emily Plaza
Avondale High School, Avondale – Deven Tayal
Birmingham Groves High School, Birmingham – Hadley Moak
Dakota High School, Clinton Twp – Abigail Meesseman
Flat Rock High School, Flat Rock – Samantha Tylicki
Franklin High School, Livonia – Caitlin Jodway
Freeland High School, Freeland – Bailey Desander
H.H. Dow High School, Midland – Brook Schultz
Huron High School, New Boston – Hannah McKeen
Monroe High School, Monroe – Andi Martin
Riverview Community High School, Riverview – Jade Smith
Romulus Senior High School, Romulus – Shannon Turner
Royal Oak Kimball High School, Royal Oak – Anna Hasley


Special Tree Represents at Capitol Day 2018

By Peggy Allen Bock, Special Tree Executive Director Business Development

Every year in May the Brain Injury Association in Michigan and the Michigan Brain Injury Provider Council sponsor Capital Day in Lansing.  Providers, advocates and survivors of brain injury and their families descend on the Capital for the opportunity to meet with their legislators.  Special Tree was well represented and our staff spent the day educating policy makers about brain injury and public policy that impacts the persons we serve.  Check out photos of the group in action here:

This year’s Capitol Day was one of the biggest to date with nearly 150 attendees who met with 85 legislators. In addition to discussing the importance of Auto No-Fault, attendees highlighted their concerns over distracted driving and urged their legislators to support HB 4466, which would expand existing distracted driving laws. Rep. Martin Howrylak, Rep. Tom Greimel and Sen. Vincent Gregory addressed those gathered in the Mackinac room.  The Coalition to Protect “Auto No-Fault also announced their new campaign, “Shop Your Policy”, to assist drivers in reducing their auto insurance costs.  Learn more about the campaign here.

Curzydlo Named to Board of Examiners for 2018 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award

Congrats to Nicole Curzydlo, Special Tree’s Quality Program Manager, who was named to the Board of Examiners for the 2018 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. In the world of organizational quality, being selected as an Examiner is a pretty big deal.  Nicole joins a national team of 350 experts who were competitively selected to evaluate and provide feedback to organizations across the U.S. who submitted applications for the Baldrige Award, the nation's highest honor for organizational innovation and performance excellence.   The feedback report is a key reason why organizations (including Special Tree!) apply for the award.  Nicole also served as an Examiner for the state-level Baldrige Award in 2014 and 2015.  Special Tree is proud to have had 19 staff selected as state and national Examiners since adopting the Baldrige Performance Excellence Criteria in 2008.

To become a certified National Examiner, Nicole recently attended an intensive three-day training in Washington DC on how to evaluate an organization’s processes and results and to write actionable feedback to help them improve.  Nicole said she learned a lot from the course but that her previous experience doing site visits was a definate plus“I was nervous at first but later I felt more confident because not a lot of people had previous state experience. Plus I'm working on our Special Tree application so that helped," she said.  "It was a great experience and I hope to get invited back next year."

As a member of Special Tree's Quality team, Nicole works closely with Quality Officer Mark MacAleese to manage the rigorous process for Special Tree's national and state-level Baldrige award applications.  Special Tree received Michigan's Performance Excellence Award in 2010 and is applying for the state's highest quality honor in 2019.  Stay tuned!  

Out of the Chair and Into the Air!

Airport Tour Shows Clients How to Travel By Air in a Wheelchair


These days, flying anywhere is a hassle for anyone. But air travel can be especially challenging for wheelchair users. One way Special Tree is helping clients and their families prepare for future air travel is taking them to Detroit Metro Airport for a behind the scenes tour of the disability services available through Delta Airlines.

Recreational Therapists Kristin Claerhout and Courtney Fankhauser recently organized a TR outing where representatives from Delta Airlines Disabilities Support staff went with clients and their families through every phase of the airport experience. Delta reps took clients through TSA security and onto a gate where they boarded a plane and transferred to a seat using a special aisle wheelchair. Clients also went down to the tarmac to see how their wheelchairs were loaded onto the aircraft.

“The tour was very helpful for one client and his wife as they are flying to Florida in July for a family reunion,” said Kristin. “The other client was also excited by the possibility of going somewhere one day!”

Kristin and Courtney do the field trip a few times a year. “The Delta Airlines staff do a great job educating our clients and families on traveling with disabilities.”

Brain Injury Association of Michigan Honors Jack Richert With Legacy Society Award

Special Tree’s Jack Richert, Vice President and Director, Referrals & Admissions, wias honored at the annual Brain Injury Association of Michigan’s Legacy Society Tribute Dinner on April 21, 2018 at the Suburban Collection Showplace’s Diamond Center in Novi.

Jack received the Community Service and Leadership Award and was  inducted into the Brain Injury of Michigan’s Legacy Society.  Legacy Society members are recognized for their dedication, leadership, and personal commitment to enhancing the quality of life of persons with brain injury and their families.  Jack is being recognized along with Dr. Michael Andary of Michigan State University.

As the son of Special Tree founders Dr. Joseph and the late Jean Richert, Jack grew up in the world of brain injury rehabilitation.  Jack joined the family business in 1989 to develop Special Tree’s marketing and sales group. In his current role, Jack oversees the corporate census for Special Tree’s subacute, outpatient, and residential programs and provides guidance to clients and family members in the decision-making process from admission through discharge.

Jack’s dedication to the brain injury community extends well beyond his role at Special Tree.  He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Brain Injury Association of Michigan, and has been an enthusiastic contributor to the BIAMI, providing leadership to the Downriver Chapter from 1991-1995.  Additionally, Jack, along with his mother, co-Chaired the annual Charity Auctions, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the BIAMI.  In the fall of 2017, Jack took his dedication and activism to a new level as a competitor in the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan Foundation’s Dancing with our Stars fundraiser for Dance Mobility, Michigan’s only free adaptive ballroom dance program.

As a lifelong resident of Huron Township, Jack has always been a strong community member.   He has been a Trustee on the Board of Education for the Huron School District since 2002 and is currently President of the School Board.  Jack is also a proud veteran of the United States Navy.  During his four years of service, Jack managed staff for the Supreme Allied Command Officer Mess and earned a special assignment to the World Naval Symposium. Jack received several honors from the U.S. Navy including an appointment to NATO with the U. S. Allied Command; a Good Conduct Medal; and a Joint Services Achievement Medal, which was awarded by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.

Jack earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Health Administration & Human Behavior from Eastern Michigan University and a Master of Science degree in Organizational Leadership and Administration from Concordia University.  He and his wife Christina have been married for 27 years and have three children.

The Spring Tribute Legacy Society Dinner draws more than 1,000 brain injury professionals, legislators, community leaders and supporters from across the state to raise funds for education, advocacy, support treatment services and resources for brain injury survivors and their families.  In addition, the BIAMI hosts a two-week online auction to fund programs for military veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress injury.  Access the Legacy Auction here from April 16 – 28th.

CARF is Coming Soon!

A survey team from CARF International* will be visiting Special Tree on April 11- 13, 2018.  We invited the surveyors to evaluate how well we meet international standards for quality. The survey will tell us what we are doing well and ways we might improve. As a result of this survey, we may earn or continue accreditation.  As part of the survey, the surveyors will interview people who receive services, their families, our staff, and others. Some questions the survey team members might ask people are:

  • Do we provide a clean and safe setting?
  • Do you receive the services you need and want?
  • Are you treated with respect?
  • Do you take part in planning your services?
  • Are you told what you need to know about your services?
  • Are your questions answered in a way you understand?
  • Do you know where to go with questions or concerns?

If you would like to talk with one of the survey team members or want to learn more about CARF International, please let one of our team members know. You may also contact CARF International directly.

*CARF International — A group of companies that includes CARF, CARF Canada, and CARF Europe.


PDF iconCARF-Poster.pdf

New In-House Lab Generating Better Patient Outcomes

Special Tree is proud to announce another step in improving the delivery of care for our patients.  Fully accredited lab services are now available at our NeuroCare campus in Romulus.   The new lab offers many common diagnostic tests and screenings including CBC’s, Electrolyte panels, BMP, CMP’s, Liver function Panels, and Lipid Panels for patients in our sub-acute and residential programs.  The lab is accredited by the CLIA, a regulatory division of the FDA.

“Having access to on-site lab services is very beneficial for our patients,” said Lela Hickonbottom, Chief Nursing Officer.  “The quicker we get results, the quicker we can diagnosis and implement treatment which results in better outcomes for our patients.”  Added benefits include the coordination of medical data all in one place and a decrease in the duplication of services.  All this improves control and management of client care for our consulting physicians and treatment team and reduces costs for insurers.  

Special Tree’s in-house lab team includes Kelly Barker P.A., Assistant Medial Director, Lela Hickonbottom, Chief Nursing Officer, Della Buchanan, Director of Nursing and Tiffany Thomas, Laboratory Technician.