At Spaulding Hospital in Cambridge, Mass., Class of 2020 alumni Lauren Lamberton and Gabriel Purin manage an exercise center for people paralyzed by spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis (MS) and stroke. The workout routines they develop allow individuals who can’t move on their own to participate in fun and engaging physical activity that improves their health and wellbeing.
Purin and Lamberton work in the hospital’s Exercise for Persons with Disabilities (ExPD) program and contribute to a research project investigating the effects of exercise on people with paralyzing injuries. They test pulmonary function and oxygen consumption while people exercise on special rowing machines outfitted with electrical pads that stimulate nerves. The stimulation triggers paralyzed muscles to contract and bend joints, moving arms and legs automatically in a synchronized rowing motion, allowing participants to experience high-intensity cardiovascular workouts. Evidence points to decreased risk for heart disease, obesity, depression, anxiety and pain, along with improved bone density, blood lipid profile, sleep, mobility and independence.
“So many people with chronic conditions don’t have access to physical activity or knowledge of how to achieve their fitness goals,” Purin said. “Fitness is for everyone, regardless of their capabilities, and anyone can participate with proper accessibility. We just have to find a way that works best, and there’s so much joy in being the conduit for that.”
Lamberton and Purin each recognized their passion for helping people with disabilities during courses on exercise in chronic conditions and adapted physical activity with professor Susan Kasser. Purin gained clinical experience working for MS IDEAL, a campus-based fall prevention program for individuals with MS. He also worked as a research assistant on a project with Kasser and professor Michael Cannizzaro, examining the link between brain oxygen levels and multitasking in adults with MS. Lamberton volunteered for Special Olympics Unified Fitness, an exercise program for young people with intellectual challenges.
“We use the skills we learned every day here,” said Lamberton, who will return to UVM this fall in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program. ExPD will likely hire another UVM alumnus in her place, Lamberton said. “Our supervisor has been very happy with UVM exercise science graduates and wants to continue that relationship.”
Purin will continue working at Spaulding, and eventually wants to teach adaptive physical activity courses, perhaps at the college level.
“Adaptive physical activity is a growing field, with so many career options,” Purin said.