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‘They’re family’: Reinoehl builds friendships with Trine students, along with strength

FORT WAYNE — Though a diving accident left Phil Reinoehl paralyzed from the neck down five years ago, the Garrett man says he is truly blessed.

Reinoehl is still quadriplegic, but has gone from being able to move one toe — something he shouldn’t have been able to do — to now moving his left leg on his own while walking in the pool at Turnstone. He was able to stand, with assistance, for his son’s high school graduation, and dance with his wife at his son’s wedding.

Among the blessings Reinoehl has experienced have been the friendships he has built with Trine University Doctor of Physical Therapy students over his journey.

“They’re not friends anymore, they’re family,” he said.

Following his accident, he began working with a physical therapist at Parkview Health, but needed extra assistance. Sean Collins, a student in Trine’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, had worked at the rehabilitation facility where Reinoehl and his wife took their son after surgery, and Reinoehl enlisted Collins’ help.

“He and a buddy, [Trine DPT student] Cole DeVoss, began helping with me in therapy, and as we went on, I gained [another Trine DPT student,] Elisha Handshoe. We still go out to dinner together and Elisha now works at Parkview Randallia, where I go to therapy,” Reinoehl said.

As the original students graduated and moved on to physical therapy careers, other Trine DPT students began working with Reinoehl.

“It grew from year to year,” he said. “I gain friendships and they keep carrying over.”

“I am an open book about my injury and life. The students learn from asking questions because they know I will answer them.”

“I could never thank him enough for allowing me to work alongside him, and answering endless questions that I have as a student,” said Trine DPT student Vanessa Owusu. “It is amazing to have conversations with Phil about his progression, and see him achieve new goals.”

“One of the most beneficial things about working with Phil is that he teaches us to be advocates,” said Sarah Boettner, another Trine DPT student. “He is a fantastic advocate for himself and, as future physical therapists, we will have the role of advocating for our patients. Phil is teaching us just as much as we are teaching him, and I couldn't be more grateful for that education.”

Trine DPT student Kinnsey Pass has known Reinoehl since she did a summer internship at Turnstone as part of her undergraduate degree. However, she said he got to be her “Trine dad” once she started the DPT program.

“I shadowed the class above me working with him when they were looking for members from my class to take over,” she said. “After joining them in the pool, I immediately knew I wanted to continue what has been passed down. It was a way to learn, give back and get to know this awesome guy.”

Last fall, Reinoehl participated in a research study with second-year Trine DPT students to see if Pilates exercises would result in an increase in his core strength. Ashleigh Depew, who, along with Boettner, Owusu and Pass, was part of the group working with Reinoehl, said the project gave students an opportunity to do something unique.

“We wanted to do something that would not only give us results but potentially change someone’s life,” she said. “We really liked the idea of working with someone who has had spinal cord injury. We had to think of something Phil was not used to, so the idea of Pilates came about.”

“I thought he was going to look at us and say we were crazy. Instead, he asked when we could start.”

Group members said Reinoehl has been an inspiration to them.

“From day one, Phil has been so motivated, and believes not only in himself but everyone around him,” Depew said. “Our sessions did not feel like research. It felt like I was spending time with family. We laughed a lot and learned a lot.”

“Phil always finds a way to make you smile,” she said. “I have never seen Phil discouraged, angry or sad. Every time we would push him we would think he would want to stop, but instead he would look at us and ask, ‘What’s the next move?’ ”

“I look forward to joining Phil in the pool each week and I honestly am not sure who benefits the most from these sessions,” said Pass. “Phil has been through a lot and still would do anything for anyone else. He and his wife are big advocates for helping others and assisting people in similar positions. Phil has been an inspiration to me and a huge factor for my interest in working with clients who have experienced spinal cord injuries.”

 “Every encounter I've had with Phil has always been filled with laughter and joy,” said Owusu. “There are so many lessons I have learned from him and continue to learn from him to this day. His work ethic is undeniable and the relationships he has built with all of us have been based on his kind heart, motivated spirit, and urge to put forth his best effort. I am happy that I have had the opportunity to build a friendship with such an amazing and inspiring individual such as Phil.”

The group noted that Reinoehl showed improvement in abdominal strength and his ability to reach forward after the Pilates. Reinoehl agreed, saying he gained “a ton” of core strength.

“The Pilates program worked so well that I have asked to continue it. I come one day a week and one of the girls helps me in the pool,” he said. “Even the walking has changed so much.”

While working in the pool at Turnstone in Fort Wayne, he said people will ask who is helping him. He lets them know it is physical therapy students from Trine, and hopes more people at Turnstone are eventually able to work with Trine students.

“I think it’s pretty awesome for students to help develop other people and help themselves at the same time,” he said. “Every student I have worked with always listened to what I had to say about what they were doing during therapy, positive or negative, and used it to learn. They all have had great attitudes and are a lot of fun to be around, and we spend a lot of time together.”

He also visits Trine physical therapy classes regularly to allow students to practice manual techniques.

“For me, it’s a payback for everything they’ve done,” he said.

Top photo: Front, from left, Sarah Boettner, Phil Reinoehl, Kinsey Pass, Tricia Widenhoefer, DPT; back, Vanessa Owusu and Ashleigh Depew. Boettner, Pass, Owusu and Depew, all members of the Trine University Doctor of Physical Therapy Class of 2021, conducted a research study with Reinoehl to see if Pilates exercises would result in an increase in his core strength. Widenhoefer is director of clinical education and an assistant professor with Trine's DPT program.

  • Class of 2017

    Class of 2017 - Phil Reinoehl, front, with, from left, Cole DeVoss, Sean Collins and Elisha Handshoe, all members of the Trine University Doctor of Physical Therapy Class of 2017 who worked with him.

  • Class of 2019

    Class of 2019 - Phil Reinoehl, front, with, from left, Chelsea Costello, Michael Hankinson and Jillian Surridge, all members of the Trine University Doctor of Physical Therapy Class of 2019 who worked with him.

  • Class of 2020

    Class of 2020 - Phil Reinoehl, front, with, from left, Carlee Richardson, Lindsey Welsh and Ben Prichett, all members of the Trine University Doctor of Physical Therapy Class of 2020 who worked with him.