KU researcher’s cross-state walk targets stroke recovery

Posted on May 24, 2013 in Alumni News, Campus News, and News

Rattlesnakes. Burning sun. No shade. High winds. Blistered feet.

Those are just a few of the trials and tribulations that Sandra Billinger, g’04, PhD’09, has endured in her Walk Across Kansas, which began earlier this month on the Colorado state line near Coolidge.

An assistant professor in the School of Health Professions’ department of physical therapy and rehabilitation sciences and director of KU Medical Center’s REACH (Research in Exercise and Cardiovascular Health) laboratory, Billinger is undertaking the 572-mile walk with her son, Michael Thomas, to raise $50,000 for laboratory equipment. As reported in the May issue of Kansas Alumni, the equipment will enable Billinger and her research team to study the benefits of exercise during stroke recovery.

Billinger says her studies have shown that stroke patients are sedentary during more than 90 percent of their day in rehab. She believes a more active therapy–similar to the approach that gets heart patients up and moving as part of their treatment–may be a better strategy for stroke recovery.

Updates posted on the Walk Across Kansas Facebook page and website show plenty of high points to balance the challenges the pair have encountered on their trek, which traces the American Discovery Trail. Michael celebrated his 20th birthday with family along the route, a good Samaritan returned Billinger’s lost hat, and talks delivered to local groups–including a meeting of the Great Plains chapter of the KU Alumni Association in Garden City–have given Billinger a chance to discuss her research and the important role that KU plays in serving the health care needs of the state. She has also reconnected with former patients and made new friends along the way.

“The hospitality here has been fabulous,” Billinger wrote in one update. “People are very nice!”

Billinger and Thomas are nearing Larned as the Memorial Day weekend approaches. They invite Kansans to join any portion of their walk, which will conclude in early June at the KU Medical Center. Just bring comfortable shoes, plenty of water and a keen eye for snakes.

–Steven Hill

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