Once paralyzed, South Jersey man now helps others relearn how to walk

Most of the clients who come to Project Walk no longer have their occupational therapy covered by insurance.

Beccah Hendrickson Image
Thursday, January 12, 2023
Once paralyzed, South Jersey man now helps others relearn how to walk
EMBED <>More Videos

Most of the clients who come to Project Walk no longer have their occupational therapy covered by insurance.

MOUNT LAUREL, New Jersey (WPVI) -- A South Jersey man who was once told he was paralyzed after a catastrophic accident is now helping others learn to walk again too.

"Ready to walk?" Matthew Fumo asked a client at Project Walk New Jersey, where the 24-year-old works as an aide and mentor.

Fumo's injury happened in 2017. He had been swimming with friends at the shore when he dove in the water and hit his head.

"I was paralyzed from there," he said. "They're telling my family that there's no chance of walking again or moving anything under my injury, which is at my neck."

He never accepted the diagnosis of paralysis and in his quest to be fully mobile, he found Project Walk New Jersey.

"The body wasn't meant to not move, so movement helps with health," said Leslie Clark, the executive director.

The recovery center is set up like a gym, where trainers -- who all have varying degrees in fields like exercise science -- improve the quality of life for people affected by paralysis, stroke, MS, cerebral palsy, any sort of neurological disorder," explained Clark.

Workers reteach clients mobile skills in five steps.

"Rolling, as if a baby were learning how to roll over" is the first step, according to Clark. Then comes kneeling, crawling, standing, and walking.

"This helps people get out of their wheelchairs, get moving, get load-bearing and get muscle movement," she said.

Most of the clients who come to Project Walk no longer have their occupational therapy covered by insurance. So if it weren't for a program like this, they'd be on their own. Instead, they have a whole community lifting them up.

"Oh yeah! You didn't need me!" Clark said, cheering for a client who had just stood.

The team helps those who are willing to work discover their own ability. After all, it's in this gym that Fumo learned his abilities are limitless.

"On the 5th year anniversary I did a triathalon," he said. "Everything anyone said I couldn't do, I try to do."