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UPMC Mercy park offers respite, hope for people adjusting to disabilities

Tony LaRussa
| Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, 5:00 p.m.
A multi-surface path is a key part of the new outdoor therapeutic park at UPMC Mercy, Uptown, on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. The recovery and rehabilitation park is intended to enhance patient healing, rehabilitation training and the overall recovery process and was funded by a $200,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
A multi-surface path is a key part of the new outdoor therapeutic park at UPMC Mercy, Uptown, on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. The recovery and rehabilitation park is intended to enhance patient healing, rehabilitation training and the overall recovery process and was funded by a $200,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation.
UPMC Mercy staff bow their heads in prayer as the hospital's outdoor therapeutic park is blessed in Uptown Thursday, August 29, 2013. The recovery and rehabilitation park is intended to help patients with mobility inuries heal, rehabilitate and adjust to life outside the hospital as part of the overall recovery process. The park at Locust and Marion streets was funded by a $200,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
UPMC Mercy staff bow their heads in prayer as the hospital's outdoor therapeutic park is blessed in Uptown Thursday, August 29, 2013. The recovery and rehabilitation park is intended to help patients with mobility inuries heal, rehabilitate and adjust to life outside the hospital as part of the overall recovery process. The park at Locust and Marion streets was funded by a $200,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation.
Research coordinator Marshall Lee Tempest demonstrates the benefits of the new outdoor therapeutic park at UPMC Mercy in Uptown Thursday, August 29, 2013.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Research coordinator Marshall Lee Tempest demonstrates the benefits of the new outdoor therapeutic park at UPMC Mercy in Uptown Thursday, August 29, 2013.

When UPMC Mercy hospital officials tapped Marshall Lee Tempest to help develop a place where people learning to live with physical disabilities can practice using a wheelchair or other mobility device, he knew all too well the difficulties of maneuvering through the “real world.”

“Hospitals are designed to make it easy for people (with physical disabilities) to get around,” said Tempest, 40, of Monroeville, who lost the use of his legs in a motor vehicle accident when he was 18. “But it can be a real challenge to their confidence when they get home and want to go to the grocery store or some other place and realize it is not like going down a hospital corridor.”

On Thursday morning, Mercy officials unveiled a 15,000-square-foot Recovery and Rehabilitation Park on the hospital's front lawn at the corner of Locust and Marion streets. The Walmart Foundation provided a $200,000 grant to build the park.

In addition to adding garden features such as a pergola, benches, decorative field stones, lush plants and colorful flowers to Uptown's dense urban landscape, the park provides practice space for patients in Mercy's 79-bed Rehabilitation Institute.

Incorporated into the park are curbs of various heights; sections of walkway finished with uneven surfaces such as gravel, Belgian block and mulch; and staircases and ramps of various lengths and heights.

“Patients can have a difficult time if they've only practiced walking or using a wheelchair on flat or smooth surfaces,” said Dr. Michael Boninger, director of the Rehabilitation Institute.

“Using a wheelchair in a hospital corridor doesn't teach you how to get into your house,” he said. “We developed the park because we know that we need to train people for higher-level skills.”

The “practice” features built into the park were developed by the institute's research team, of which Tempest is a member.

“This will be a great place to teach people about what it's going to be like when they leave the hospital,” said Tempest, who serves on a peer support group for the institute's patients.

Beyond admiring “such a gorgeous park,” Rosanne Torisky of Beechview said she is looking forward to using the park to learn how to navigate her motorized wheelchair better.

“Sometimes when I'm out, I'll run into something and just wonder how am I going to get through this?” said Torisky, 84, who cannot walk and is at the institute learning to adjust to a new knee brace. “It's great that there's a place to help learn how to get around a little bit better.”

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