Western receives Reynolds grant to launch human movement science lab

CULLOWHEE – A grant of nearly $200,000 from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust will enable Western Carolina University’s master’s degree program in physical therapy to establish a human movement science laboratory.

The funds will be used to purchase state-of-the-art equipment to train Western’s physical therapy students in the analysis of human movement and to provide diagnostic resources for health-care professionals across Western North Carolina – and their patients.

The grant funding comes as Gov. Mike Easley has signed a statewide capital improvements bill that includes $10 million to plan and design new health-related buildings at Western and the Mountain Area Health Education Center in Asheville, a partnership also involving the University of North Carolina-Asheville. Western is planning a new School of Health and Gerontological Sciences, which would include space for human movement science labs.

The laboratory should be of special benefit to the region’s growing population of elderly residents, who can suffer loss of mobility due to arthritis, diabetes, stroke and injury, said Karen Lunnen, head of the physical therapy department at Western. It also will serve persons at risk of falling, athletes of all ages, and individuals with job-related physical impairments.

“Currently, the closest laboratories with these capabilities are in Knoxville, Atlanta and Winston-Salem,” said Lunnen. “Not only is it difficult for many residents of Western North Carolina to get to those sites, but they tend to focus more on research. The laboratory at Western will provide diagnostic services that will help prevent or lessen disability resulting from movement disorders.”

A larger percentage of WNC residents (11.5 percent) have physical disabilities than the rest of the state (9.3 percent) and nation (8.2 percent), according to a 2003 report from the N.C. Office on Disability and Health, and the State Center for Health Statistics. The leading cause of disability is arthritis, which affects 58.8 percent of individuals over the age of 65. North Carolina currently ranks 10 th in the nation in the number of persons age 65 and older, and that age group is expected to increase dramatically, the report said.

The laboratory should greatly improve access to diagnostic services for patients in the mountains, said Kristen Jagger, assistant professor of physical therapy. “One of the primary objectives of physical therapy is to reduce functional limitations resulting from physical impairment,” Jagger said. “If there is no intervention, functional limitations often lead to a permanent disability – including the most devastating, a loss of mobility.”

The clinic will not compete with existing rehabilitation services, but would supplement available options to provide optimal care to WNC patients. “It is our intention to work closely with rehabilitation professionals in the region to coordinate delivery of services in the most efficient, cost-effective manner,” Lunnen said.

The laboratory will provide hands-on training for students majoring in physical therapy and other health-care fields not just from Western, but from other area colleges and universities, including the physical therapy assistant program at Southwestern Community College.

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust was created in 1947 through the will of Mrs. William N. Reynolds of Winston-Salem. Three-fourths of the trust’s grants are designated for health-related programs and services across North Carolina, and one-fourth for the poor and needy of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.