Natalie in the News

Natalie Barnhard Receives the Finn Bullers Advocate of the Year Award

Natalie Barnhard, from Buffalo, NY, is the 2021 recipient of the Finn Bullers Advocate of the Year Award at this year’s United Spinal Association Roll on Capitol Hill event. Natalie is the chapter leader of the Western New York Chapter of United Spinal, and she has been a wheelchair user for 16 years after she sustained a spinal cord injury while at work as a physical therapy assistant (PTA). Talking to me on the the Advocacy Network Live Stream this month, she told me how extremely hard it was for her to not be able to use her hands and continue her career as a PTA after her injury. During her recovery process she set a personal goal to help others with spinal cord injuries and to raise awareness in the Buffalo and surrounding areas.

Motion Project FoundationThrough her hard work and dedication Natalie became the president and founder of Motion Project Foundation, and the grand opening of the Natalie Barnhard Center for Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation and Recovery will be taking place this September. For Natalie, it is a dream come true after experiencing first-hand how difficult it can be for anyone with a spinal cord injury to find much needed critical items such as intense rehabilitation therapy, or modifications and other equipment that is needed after an injury such as hers. Her own experiences motivated her to start the Motion Project Foundation with a mission that states that, “Motion Project inspires those with spinal cord injuries to rise above their challenges by promoting physical independence; and providing emotional support and spiritual healing to foster hope for a successful and fulfilling life.” Natalie’s recovery center is not like a general rehabilitation facility. She describes her facility as a place where you will find a program that works to support the whole person. So, this does not only include intense, activity-based exercise programs, but clients will also be assisted with advocacy, care navigation, and spiritual healing. She emphasizes that Motion Project is not strictly focused on physical gains. She truly believes in the importance of helping people in the SCI community to get back to work, to school, into sports, and to help them pursue their dreams.

All of us at the United Spinal Association are extremely excited and proud to present Natalie with this award. Her tireless advocacy and commitment to the SCI community is a true testament to how a dream becomes a goal, and after years of unwavering dedication turns that goal into reality.

Visit here to see the Roll on Capitol Hill press release and reception video
(View at 38 minutes in to see Natalie)

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The Natalie Barnhard Center for Activity-Based Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation and Recovery

The first specialized spinal cord injury (SCI) rehabilitation and recovery center in Western New York is slated to open spring of 2021. The center, founded by Natalie Barnhard, President of the Motion Project Foundation, will provide invaluable rehabilitation and recovery services to those living with spinal cord injuries. Barnhard herself is a recovering spinal cord injured individual, who is determined to provide top level healthcare services for others that face the challenges that she herself faced.

The Natalie Barnhard Center for Activity-Based Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation and Recovery is in partnership with University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions.

What this means for the region is quite astounding, if you stop to consider that there are somewhere around 291,000 people living with spinal cord injuries in the US. Once open, the center will have state-of-the-art equipment, world-class clinicians, and cutting-edge therapies.

Unfortunately, like everything else during the pandemic, the timeline to open has been slower to progress than what was originally anticipated, with some roadblocks along the way. But that has not deterred Barnhard and her team who remain positive and steadfast in their dream to build (and open) the facility.

The 6000 square foot Center, located at 4820 Genesee Street in Cheektowaga, is centrally located near to the airport, as well as to major highways. In the near future, this will become an indispensable SCI Center that will serve both local and out-of-area clientele. It will also add to Buffalo’s specialized medical care industry, by helping to accommodate the needs of those who might otherwise have to travel great distances – by providing services close to home, they are less at risk of further damaging their bodies that might already be considered “at-risk” when traveling.

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Updated 9:09 AM CDT, Wed June 23, 2021

Natalie Barnhard was named the recipient of the Finn Bullers Advocate of the Year Award at this year’s United Spinal Association Roll on Capitol Hill event, which took place virtually June 14-16. Barnhard is the chapter leader of the Western New York Chapter of United Spinal and the founder and president of Motion Project Foundation. She has been a wheelchair user for 16 years, following a spinal cord injury while at work as a physical therapy assistant (PTA). In September, the Natalie Barnhard Center for Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation and Recovery will celebrate its grand opening. This year’s Roll on Capitol Hill drew about 200 attendees from across the country.

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United Spinal’s Virtual Roll on Capitol Hill Strengthens Disability Rights, Accessibility, and Inclusion for Future Generations of Wheelchair Users

NEW YORK, June 18, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — United Spinal Association and approximately 200 advocates from across the country gathered virtually on June 14-16 for the 2021 Roll on Capitol Hill, meeting with their representatives in Congress to ensure that people with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D) are included in shaping disability policies.

Roll on Capitol Hill­­­­­­­­­­­­­ provides United Spinal members a platform to amplify their voices on issues that impact their health and independence, share their experiences as wheelchair users, and be proactive in advocating for disability rights at both the state and national level.

“We need events like Roll on Capitol Hill, more than ever. The stories we tell about being able to land our dream job, move to our dream cities, and live truly independent lives, or proudly roll across the stage at graduation, continue to be matched by those who remain underserved by our society. There’s so much work to be done,” said Vincenzo Piscopo, United Spinal’s president and CEO.

This year, with 200 virtual Congressional office visits completed in one day, Roll on Capitol Hill attendees advanced key issues in meetings with their Congressional representatives, including:

Accessible, affordable, adoptable, secure and reliable broadband that works for everyone, including people with disabilities.
Greater access to transportation so that people with disabilities can be active within their communities and maintain their health and independence.
Greater access to telehealth and critical coverage of home- and community-based services.
Improved access to caregiving supports for veterans and expanded health care eligibility for veterans living with toxic exposure illnesses, now and in the future.
Increased funding for Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Model Systems which provide a comprehensive, multidisciplinary system of care, research, and resources for people with SCI.
In advance of Roll on Capitol Hill, members attended a training session where they learned more about United Spinal’s policy priorities from experienced disability advocates and Congressional staffers.

On the afternoon of June 16th, United Spinal hosted a Congressional and Corporate Advisory Council Reception to recognize individuals dedicated to strengthening disability rights and inclusion. Awardees included:

Natalie Barnhard – ­2021 Finn Bullers Advocate of the Year Award
U.S. Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas – 2021 James J. Peters Distinguished Veterans Legislator Award
U.S. Representative Dina Titus of Nevada – 2021 United Spinal Outstanding Congressional Leadership Award
“This award is such an honor because I’m able to bring awareness to the changes I am working hard to make here in my community. As an advocate I hope to make lasting changes for people who live with SCI/D with their physical recovery and create a better quality of life for everyone through physical rehabilitation, accessibility, care, and support,” said Barnhard.

The reception also commemorated United Spinal’s 75th Anniversary and its mission to build an inclusive world that empowers all people with disabilities. United Spinal highlighted the impact of its programs and services and recognized the vital support of its corporate partners, which make a substantial difference in the lives of individuals with disabilities, their families, friends, and caregivers.

“Thank you for letting me know my voice matters. This is such a cool organization and I hope this is just the first of many years that I can be a part of Roll on Capitol Hill. I’m excited,” said Davita Carter, a grassroots advocate from Illinois.

For additional information about the public policies that United Spinal addressed at Roll on Capitol Hill, visit

United Spinal gratefully acknowledges its 2021 Roll on Capitol Hill sponsors for their support of its mission.

About United Spinal Association

United Spinal is a national 501(c) (3) nonprofit membership organization formed in 1946 by paralyzed veterans and is dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Americans with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D), including multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, ALS and post-polio. It played a significant role in writing the Americans with Disabilities Act, and made important contributions to the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the Air Carrier Access Act. Membership is free and is open to all individuals with SCI/D. United Spinal was instrumental in getting New York City to create sidewalk curb ramps and accessible public transportation that has been used as a model for many United States cities. In 2021, United Spinal is celebrating 75 years of building an inclusive world that welcomes wheelchair users and all people with disabilities.

SOURCE United Spinal Association

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Western New York gains access to ICARE
September 07, 2021

The number of new sites with the ICARE by SportsArt, a rehabilitation technology developed at Madonna’s Institute for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering, is growing with the latest installation in the Buffalo, New York region. The ICARE helps patients, such as those who have experienced a stroke or spinal cord injury, address their walking, fitness, balance and arm rehabilitation goals simultaneously.

Judith M. Burnfield, Ph.D., P.T., Institute Director, who leads research to advance guidelines for use of the ICARE, made a special visit to Western New York to oversee the introduction of the new equipment purchased by the Motion Project Foundation. Natalie Barnhard is the founder of Motion Project. She sustained a spinal cord injury at work in 2004 and is making a difference for others through The Natalie Barnhard Center for Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation and Recovery located in Cheektowaga.

“Natalie is just fantastic. She and her family are real visionaries for making rehabilitation available in the community for people,” said Dr. Burnfield. “She recognizes that rehabilitation and fitness are not just something you do in the hospital but a lifestyle you pursue once your return to your homes and communities.”

The Madonna ICARE by SportsArt integrates an external body weight support system, as well as an elliptical, with a specialized motor that can sense the need for assistance for the user. The ICARE system allows persons with serious injuries and illnesses to exercise safely for longer periods of time while lessening the physical demands placed on clinicians’ and fitness trainers’ bodies while assisting.

“We had a wonderful time working with Natalie and her trainers and helping them learn how to use the ICARE,” said Dr. Burnfield.

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Like a Phoenix Rising Natalie Barnhard’s relentless drive carries her through more than a decade of healing.

At 24 years old, Natalie Marie Barnhard had the world by the tail.

The bright, ambitious, New York resident, had just landed a job as a physical therapy assistant, obtained a massage therapy license, was on the hunt to buy a home and had a great boyfriend.

For as long as she could remember, Natalie’s passion had been helping others, and all of the hard work was paying off as she established a career in her chosen field.

But just three months after receiving her massage therapy license, while working at a local physical therapy practice, Natalie’s life took a turn that put her on a very different path.

The day that changed everything began like any other.

It was about an hour and a half into her shift at work, and Natalie was helping a patient on a leg extension machine. The machine, which was not bolted down properly, came crashing down onto Natalie – all 600 pounds of it. It took several people to free Natalie, who as she lay there, sensed that the damage to her body was catastrophic.

“Just from my background in physical therapy, I knew it was bad,” she recalls. “I couldn’t even feel the weight of my body on the ground.”

Natalie was taken to the hospital where she was placed in intensive care. Her neck had been crushed so severely that Natalie sustained C-5 spinal cord injury. Doctors told her she had a less than 5 percent chance of walking again.

The days and years that followed were painstaking. It was a time filled with long periods of stillness, anger and sadness, punctuated by hard-fought steps forward.

There were three months of not being able to speak because one of her vocal cords had been partially paralyzed. She spent one week on a ventilator, and it would be about three years before she would be able to perform even the simplest functions independently again.

Natalie began her recovery in Buffalo, New York, where she spent about two months before deciding to continue treatment at a facility that specialized in spinal cord injuries. She flew by medical jet to Shepherd Center.

“Coming to Shepherd Center was by far the best decision I ever made,” Natalie says. “They get you up and get you moving whether you like it or not.”

Looking back on this time, Natalie describes it as the most difficult journey of her life. But it took her to a place she never thought she’d be again – helping others to heal.

Natalie has spent about a decade focused on rehabilitation. After her initial, three-month inpatient treatment at Shepherd Center ended, she moved into a local hotel and continued recovery in the hospital’s Beyond Therapy® program.

“When she first got here, Natalie was significantly weak,” says Shepherd Center occupational therapist Patti Pasch. “She couldn’t move her arms very much, but over the course of time, her arms started getting stronger.”

During the time they worked together, Pasch says, there were triumphs and dips, as happens with all patients. But Natalie persevered.

Pasch taught Natalie to be the captain of her own ship, showing her how to do as much as possible independently.

“I used to say: ‘If I feed you a fish, I feed you for a day. If I teach you to fish, I feed you for a lifetime,’” Pasch recalls.

The message was received loud and clear. Natalie doggedly pursued recovery and over time began doing her own makeup again, brushing her teeth, feeding herself and washing her face.

She also improved her balance, strength and endurance, says exercise physiologist Gustavo Duran-Monge.

Ultimately, through all of her efforts, Natalie improved the quality of her life and grew more knowledgeable and self-directed.

“Natalie was someone who had a lot of drive prior to injury, who slowly rose up like a phoenix, to go beyond her injury,” Pasch says.

Today, Natalie has mobility everywhere above her chest and some mobility in her trunk.

But her story doesn’t end there.

At a juncture where some people might have recoiled from the world, focusing on the challenges before them, Natalie has chosen to reach out further, viewing her experience and injury as a platform from which she can make a change.

“My heart and vision is to take my knowledge from being a therapist, a healer, and my experience as the patient with an injury to help other people in our community who need and deserve the best care possible,” Natalie says. I want to use my unique perspective to truly change lives.”

Her drive to help others has taken many forms. An active member of the United Spinal Association, Natalie established a local chapter of the organization in order to bring more national resources to Buffalo’s spinal cord injury community. She is also the regional chapter coordinator.

Natalie regularly gives speeches and was recognized with a 2015 Women of Influence Award by Buffalo Business First. She also recently was given Distinguished Alumni awards at both Trocaire College and Villa Maria College, where she gave the commencement speech this past May.

Amid all of this, Natalie also started her own thriving foundation, Wheels With Wings, to encourage and advocate for people with spinal cord trauma, as well provide funding for the specialized medical care needed with such an injury.

“Knowing how difficult and costly it is to get the medical services you need after a spinal cord injury, I wanted to have an organization that could immediately help individuals who suffered this catastrophic injury by providing quality-of-life grants for things insurance would not pay for,” she says.

To date, Wheels with Wings has raised more than $200,000 and given away more than $150,000 in grants.

And still Natalie’s dreams have not been fully realized. Her sights are now set on creating a neurological recovery and wellness institute in western New York, a place where those with spinal cord injury can exercise and access various modalities to improve their health and wellness.

“I’ve had the privilege and the blessing of being able to go to numerous recovery centers,” Natalie explains. “Unfortunately, Buffalo does not have anything state of the art. Shepherd Center has inspired me to help people in my community. I feel that’s my purpose in life.”

Written by Mia Taylor
Photos by Phil Skinner

See original artile here

Natalie Barnhard – Advocate and Entrepreneur

CURE NATION: It hasn’t been an easy journey for United Spinal’s 2021 Advocate of the Year, Natalie Barnhard. She won United Spinal’s award for her tireless advocacy, especially her consistent work on The Roll on Capitol Hill. Ever since a 600-pound exercise machine fell on her in 2004 cutting short her career as a physical therapist assistant and licensed massage therapist, Natalie has gone from therapist and teacher to patient to starting a nonprofit to advocate and now to an entrepreneur in pursuit of her dream. We caught up with her at home in upstate New York where she is launching The Natalie Barnhard Center for Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation and Recovery through her Motion Project Foundation; the fulfillment of these goals. The story is in how she got here.

“In the beginning, my dream was to provide this center for the SCI community, so they didn’t feel like when they left the hospital they were stuck!”

Natalie explains. “Looking at a map of activity-based recovery centers within the United States, you can see that there’s nothing in the Western New York area. When I was injured, I had no choice. I didn’t want to, but I knew that I had to leave home if I was going to get better. I couldn’t go anywhere within even an hour’s distance of my home to do intense, long-term rehab.”

If the crush of the 600-pound falling object was the first obstacle, leaving home was the second. “I came down in a medical jet to do additional therapy at The Shephard Center in Atlanta. I got put on the waitlist for Beyond Therapy, an activity-based recovery program there. Who knew I’d end up living in an extended stay hotel for 4 years, just to do rehab?” Natalie then moved into a condo for 4 more years before returning home to Buffalo in 2015.

Read more…

Motion Project: Together We Move

CURE NATION: When a 600-pound rehab exercise machine falls on the Rehabilitation Physical Therapy Assistant, some would call that irony. Some would call it a tragedy. Natalie Barnhard calls it a gift from God. “You can persevere through the injury and find something that is meaningful. Absolutely nothing is impossible through God. Look at what I wouldn’t have done, had this injury never happened.”

The injury is no small thing, however. Natalie Barnhard’s C-5 vertebrae was completely crushed, instantly making her a C-5 quadriplegic. Although she has experienced recovery in the past 15 years, especially sensory recovery below her level of injury, she couldn’t go back to being a therapist, neither a Physical Therapist Assistant nor a Licensed Massage Therapist, her most recent degree.

Natalie’s attitude sounds inspirational and, for many people, unbelievable. She didn’t get that way overnight, though.

“Early on, you don’t want to associate with other people in wheelchairs because you don’t want to think of yourself like that. It takes a while to realize that these are the people who will understand! You can bitch to each other, cry to each other.”

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Stunning Chic Modern Artistic Design Condo Remodeled by an Up and Comer Woman on Wheels

This lady has style, class, and the determination to make a difference. Not only in the recovery and function for people who have lived through her same spinal cord injury, but Natalie Barnhard provides an immediate and tangible relief for others through her foundation that makes lives more independent, joyful, and safe.

Former physical therapist assistant and massage therapist, Barnhard was injured in 2004 by a 600 lb. exercise weight machine that fell on her at work, resulting in C5-6 level quadriplegia. Despite her injury, she has the personality of a social butterfly and a brain of a community organizer, which is allowing her to live out her big plans now that she has relocated back to her hometown of Buffalo, New York.

Barnhard decided to move back after a 10-year stint in Atlanta, where she was focused on her own recovery, with the hope of someday being able to give back and pursue her dream of building a state of the art SCI recovery center in Buffalo, which would allow her to help other people in her community to Rise Above Spinal Cord Injury.

Her nonprofit organization, Wheels with Wings, (don’t you just love that name?) has provided 15 grants so far, via numerous sponsorship, four 5K walk events, and a meat raffle fundraiser. Their 5th annual walk is coming up September 24th on Buffalo’s beautiful waterfront.

Her foundation has provided for a young girl who was only able to receive sponge baths in the living room to have her bathroom renovated, covered the rehab costs for a few months for those whose insurance stopped coverage too soon, a donation of the cost of a mobility van (which can cost twice the cost of a regular van due to high priced modifications), and a new wheelchair for someone in need.

Here is just a snapshot of why Natalie has her own set of “wheels with wings”:

Started Wheels with Wings Foundation, Inc. a 501C3 nonprofit organization
Wheel:Life (featured in the book: Reconnecting: Relationship Advice from Wheelchair Users, a book put out by Wheel: Life, featured my story).
Sits on the product advisory board for Bard Medical.
Community advocate
Started the WNY Chapter of United Spinal Association and regional chapter coordinator for Great Lakes
Received Buffalo’s Business First Women of Influence Award 2015
Received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Trocaire College 2015 and Villa Maria College (and was commencement speaker in 2016)
Working on creating and development of a unique neurological recovery and wellness center here in WNY
After moving back to Buffalo, Natalie went through a transition period of rebuilding her network friends and her new life was, according to her, “overwhelming.”

“I definitely lost some friends I thought would be in my life forever,” Barnhard said. “It was difficult to understand, and I had to grieve for the loss of those relationships. The friends I’ve made since my injury far surpass those who are no longer in my life. People with strong character and big hearts, who want to spend time with me not because they feel obligated or like it helps their own conscious and feelings of guilt-their ‘good deed’ it seems. Those people made me feel as though I was a burden and responsibility-they weren’t wanting to spend time with me and the person they know I am, but instead made me feel like a victim or charity case. I don’t need or want that energy in my life. I try to surround myself with positive and encouraging people. A wheelchair should NOT ever be a determining factor whether someone wants to be your friend or not. Both new and old friendships should be based on the person and who someone is. I would rather have a couple of close friends who truly care about me verse many who feel they have to be because we were friends before my injury.”

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Contributor Bio: Natalie

Natalie at the age of 24, became a quadriplegic. On October 22, 2004, a catastrophic accident changed her life when a 600 pound exercise weight machine fell over and landed on top of Natalie. She was working as a physical therapist assistant and licensed massage therapist at the time of the injury.

Since 2004, with her strong faith in God, and support from her parents, family and friends, Natalie has been dedicated to intense rehabilitation and recovery therapy in Atlanta, GA at the Shepherd Center and many other excellent recovery facilities that practice Integrative Manual Therapy, offering the hope of walking again. Natalie’s dream has been to start a foundation in her community to not only encourage and advocate for people but also help them get money the expensive specialized medical care they may need.

Natalie founded the Wheels with Wings Foundation. The Foundation became a vision and personal goal of Natalie early on in her injury while experiencing how challenging it can be to obtain critical items such as intense rehabilitation therapy, home modifications, and other equipment which is needed as a result of a spinal cord injury. It was established in Buffalo, New York, and is a recognized 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

Wheels with Wings Foundation’s Mission is to assist individuals who have suffered a spinal cord injury and their families, to Rise Above and recover from this catastrophic injury. Individual grant awards, education, resources, awareness and advocacy are ways Wheels With Wings will work on improving the lives of people with this injury to become independent and productive and truly make a difference.

Natalie’s journey continues to move forward beyond her own traumatic injury by continuing to help people. She is now in the beginning development stages of working with others to open up a state-of-the-art spinal cord recovery institute in Western New York where it is desperately needed & can help many people. Her dream is to create a unique one-of-a-kind facility that will help other people rise above their injuries similar to the way she has in her own life. With her faith in God, support from family, friends, and the community Natalie works hard to overcome tragedy and use her experience to make a difference in other people’s lives! Follow her on her journey.

Keep checking back and join the Bardcare community to be alerted of new stories from her during this journey.

In order to keep you informed of new stories from Natalie, please click on the link below to ‘Join Our Community’. All we need is your name and email address.

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Natalie Barnhard Discusses Her Mitrofanoff Procedure from a Quadriplegic’s Perspective

Natalie  Barnhard is a Community Activist, Speaker, Entrepreneur and Cure Advocate. Below, she shares her personal experience with the Mitrofanoff procedure as a C5/6 quadriplegic, and why she is a proud user of Cure Catheters.

A Buffalo, New York native, Natalie Barnhard has been rolling since 2004. She was working as a physical therapist and massage therapist assistant when, one October day, she survived an accident that resulted in a spinal cord injury.

Natalie recalls, “I was at work and had a 600-pound weight machine topple over on top of me, injuring my spine at C-5/C-6. I was 24 at the time.”

“I knew instantly. I couldn’t feel the weight of my body on the ground. It’s a really weird feeling – you feel like you’re floating. Because of my background, I knew what a spinal cord injury was and all about it. I knew right then it was bad.”

Since her spinal cord injury, Natalie has remained active and involved in her community. She participates in ongoing, intensive physical therapy to keep her body in shape and has a strong support network.

Natalie is also an advocate for people with disabilities, working with United Spinal over the years and attending multiple advocacy events, including Roll on Capitol Hill.

Read more…

Woof Patrol – Gabe

“I’m blessed.” Imagine those words coming out of the mouth of a young woman who had her whole life ahead of her, but after a sudden freak accident, now faces more obstacles than you or I could ever grasp. Meet Natalie Barnhard, a 27 year old woman that is smart, articulate and motivated. This is the story about how her world, in one split second, turned upside down, and how her Labrador Retriever, Gabe, helps her keep it all together.

On October 22, 2004, Barnhard, a physical therapist, was at work at a physical therapy center in Buffalo, NY. For reasons unknown, a 500 lb. weight machine fell on her causing her to hit the back of her neck on a nearby table at the C5 and C6 vertebrae. The C5 vertebrae pushed into her spinal cord turning her into a quadriplegic. Today, life is a much bigger challenge for her. “It’s hard not being able to be on my own, always needing people to help,” says Barnhard. “What I miss most is simply ‘life’.

Barnhard studied Physical Therapy at Villa Maria College in Buffalo, NY and massage at Trocaire College, also in Buffalo. She became a licensed massage therapist three weeks before her accident. Now she no longer has control of her hands which forces her to give up on her goal to do massage.

Barnhard has always been an active person. She participated in kickboxing classes, yoga, mountain biking and camping. Now bound to her wheelchair, she relies on Gabe to help her get through her days. She got Gabe from Canine Helpers in Lockport, NY shortly before Christmas 2006. He is an amazing dog who is trained to do a variety of tasks like open doors, get her wallet out of her purse, take off her sweatshirt, and get help when needed by pawing at people to get their attention.

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Life-changing injury has woman striving to fulfill dreams

By Gene Warner Sep 25, 2013 Updated Jul 23, 2020

The most immediate is to continue helping other people with spinal cord injuries, through her Wheels With Wings Foundation that has raised about $115,000.

Her long-range goal is to help build a local rehabilitation and support center for people with such injuries.

And her third dream, one she has to be prodded to talk about, involves her recovery from her own catastrophic injury almost nine years ago.

Barnhard, 33, knows how lonely and frustrating it can be to cope with a life-changing spinal cord injury.

“The battle hasn’t been easy,” she said in the backyard of her parents’ Cheektowaga home. “It’s taken quite a few years to get where I am now emotionally, mentally and physically. I was very weak for a couple of years. It’s an injury that’s very hard to wrap your head around.

“You have to find a new way, a new purpose in life, a new passion, to get through it,” she added.

Surviving such a severe injury and knowing how difficult it is to endure, she has become almost obsessed with helping others:

“It’s a very rewarding feeling to help change someone else’s life,” she said.

Her own life changed drastically Oct. 22, 2004, while she was working as a physical therapy assistant and licensed massage therapist at an Amherst orthopedic facility.

A 608-pound leg-extension machine fell on her, resulting in a severe C5 and C6 spinal cord injury that left her a quadriplegic.

Buffalo attorney Thomas H. Burton, who suffered a similar injury in a motorcycle accident in 1993, noted that you need a purpose to survive such an injury.

“If you follow any Judeo-Christian ethic, you could not wish a catastrophic spinal cord injury on anyone, except maybe Hitler and his cast of characters,” Burton said. “I was incredibly lucky that I had a profession to go back to. My elixir is to stay too busy to feel sorry for myself.”

Barnhard has learned firsthand how little continuing support and intensive rehabilitation there are for people with spinal cord injuries in the Buffalo area.

While quick work by doctors at Erie County Medical Center helped save her life, she later spent 3½ months at two facilities in Atlanta. And she still spends about half her time in Atlanta, where she can get three hours per day of intensive, one-on-one physical therapy.

“There’s no support, no peer support, no advocacy program here,” she said. “You get hurt, and you feel lost. It’s very overwhelming. It’s a life-changing injury.”

Barnhard made headlines when her lawsuit against the exercise machine’s manufacturer, Cybex International, and Amherst Orthopedic Physical Therapy led to a jury award of $66.5 million.

An appeals court trimmed that figure to $44.5 million, before a settlement among the parties put the final figure at $26 million.

While that may seem an incredible windfall, a fact sheet on the Wheels With Wings website notes how expensive it is to live with a spinal cord injury.

According to the website, measured on a 2006 baseline, the average first-year health care and living expenses for someone with that injury, depending on the severity, can range from $220,000 to $740,000, which would be about $255,000 to $860,000 today.

Barnhard considers herself lucky that the settlement allowed her to provide for her own needs and medical costs, freeing up her foundation to help others.

These are specific grants that can pay for intensive rehabilitation, home or vehicle modifications, medical equipment and specialized rehabilitation equipment that, for example, can help people stand. That may seem small, she said, but any such gain is huge.

“Research is great, and I’m all for it,” she said, “but I want to help someone now who has been injured.”

Barnhard herself has made considerable progress. She now has movement in both arms, feeling down to her toes and an ability to eat, apply makeup, brush her teeth and push her wheelchair.

She credits her faith and her parents, Lee and MaryLynn, who knew when to give her space and when to push her.

Her wheelchair is part of her life, serving as her legs. But it doesn’t define her, she won’t let it control her life, and she won’t put limits on how far she can go.

“My goal is to never stop trying to progress,” she said. “In my opinion, the body never stops trying to heal. I want to keep myself healthy and in shape, just as I would if I were able-bodied.

“I’ve risen above my injury,” she added, “and that’s what I hope to help other people do – mentally, physically and emotionally.”

The foundation’s second annual Natalie’s Walk will start at 11 a.m. Saturday at Canalside, with registration for the 5K walk starting at 9.

Read more…

Natalie Interviewed on Live Webinar

Author Lisa Wells has helped create several online social communities {Wheel:Life, Life After Spinal Cord Injury & iPush Foundation} for friends who use wheelchairs to help people discover new relationships, lifestyle resources and web-based support groups.

Natalie was interviewed by presenter Lisa Wells, for the February edition of ABC Medical’s Virtual Support Group Webinar. She shared her experiences on relationships and finding support in your community.

Download the Webinar Here

Natalie is also featured in a chapter of Lisa’s book Reconnecting: Relationship Advice From Wheelchair Users.


To learn more about ABC Medical, visit their website at


How Does Wheels With Wings Foundation Give Back?

The Wheels With Wings Foundation prides itself for being able to give back to our community in a number of different ways…

WNY Chapter Of United Spinal Association

Wheels With Wings Foundation is proud to represent the Western New York Chapter of United Spinal Association.

United Spinal Association is the largest non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of all people living with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D), including veterans, and providing support and information to loved ones, care providers and professionals.

They believe no person should be excluded from opportunity on the basis of their disability. Their goal is to provide people living with SCI/D programs and services that maximize their independence and enable them to remain active in their communities.

To become a member of the Western New York Chapter of United Spinal, please complete the registration form by clicking here (Join the NY Buffalo Chapter)

You can also learn more about United Spinal Association and their Spinal Cord Resource Center at

WNY Adaptive Recreation Expo

How Does Wheels With Wings Foundation Give Back?
The Wheels With Wings Foundation prides itself for being able to give back to our community in a number of different ways.

Wheels With Wings Foundation is a proud sponsor of the WNY Adaptive Recreation Expo. If you’d like learn more about this year’s expo on Facebook, visit

6th Annual Roll On Capitol Hill – Legislative and Advocacy Conference

June 11 – 14, 2017: Washington, DC

Roll on Capitol Hill is United Spinal’s annual legislative advocacy event that addresses issues that impact the health, independence and quality of life of individuals living with spinal cord injuries and disorders.

Last year, Wheels With Wings Foundation President and Founder, Natalie Barnhard (pictured above left with Shannon Filbert), attended as an advocate of the United Spinal Association, representing the Western New York Chapter.

Click the links below for more information on this event:

Women Lawyers of WNY

Wheels With Wings Foundation would like to give a special thank you to the Women Lawyers of WNY for choosing our foundation to be their honorary charity of choice for their annual fundraising event last year.

2015 Trocaire Alumni Award

Wheels With Wings Foundation would like to give a special thank you to the Women Lawyers of WNY for choosing our foundation to be their honorary charity of choice for their annual fundraising event last year.

Thank you Wheels With Wings Foundation for helping me to get a new wheelchair that is allowing me to be more independent and live a healthy and active lifestyle.

Ryan Porteous

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