February 24, 2003 Vol. VII, No. 11

CSUN's new Brown Center has four therapy pools, including a spa with special water jets to help people with joint and soft tissue injuries. Inset photo shows the front of the Brown Center.

Brown Center, 'Where Miracles Will Occur,' is Completed

Four-Pool Therapy Complex, Unrivaled in the United States, Offers New Hope to the Chronically Disabled

Cal State Northridge is celebrating the opening of a new $6 million aquatic therapy center for the chronically disabled that is unrivaled in the United States. The four-pool complex will offer new hope to those with serious disabilities while also training CSUN students in groundbreaking treatment techniques.

"This is truly a place where miracles will occur," said CSUN President Jolene Koester, who will preside at the dedication of the new Abbott and Linda Brown Western Center for Adaptive Aquatic Therapy. The dedication - featuring speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, an internationally known disability advocate - will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday, March 28.

The aquatic center's opening fulfills a decades-long dream of CSUN kinesiology professor Sam Britten, who founded and built the university's nationally recognized therapeutic exercise programs that have helped thousands of people through the decades. The new aquatic component will enhance the university's existing land-based exercise programs.

"This is where my joy lies," said Britten, one of the university's early faculty members who is set to retire this spring after 44 years. "I can't imagine having a better job or having an opportunity to spend my life in any better way than enabling people with chronic disabilities to have the joy that comes from freedom and from freedom of movement."

The university's acclaimed Center of Achievement for the Physically Disabled, which Britten founded and directs, already serves about 400 community member and student clients each year through low-cost therapeutic exercise programs. With the addition of the aquatic program, the center ultimately expects to double or triple its client base.

The advantage of water-based exercise is it gives even those with serious and chronic disabilities the freedom of movement in exercise and therapy with little or no pain, compared to working on the ground. That is because the buoyancy of water provides an ideal environment for the body to function with less weight and gravity.

"We are really dealing with aftercarečafter medical treatment and after rehabilitationčfor people with chronic disabilities like arthritis, multiple sclerosis and stroke," Britten said. "There are about 180,000 people with chronic disabilities in this region, and almost no one's doing anything for them after they leave the hospital and/or therapy. But we are."

Britten's dream facility was made possible through $2 million in lead funding from Abbott and Linda Brown and their Ridgestone Foundation. The Browns' original $1.5 million contribution in February 2000 was CSUN's largest single alumni gift. Linda Brown, a CSUN graduate, took a special interest in Britten's pioneering work. The federal government also contributed nearly $1 million through the efforts of U.S. Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon.

The Browns are expected to attend the March 28 dedication, which will be held on the patio in front of the newly completed Brown Center. Speaker Joni Eareckson Tada survived a diving accident that left her quadriplegic, and later went through an exercise program with Britten in the late 1970s that enabled her to begin driving a specially modified van.

Through the decades, Britten figures the center's therapeutic exercise programs have enabled perhaps 200 people to regain precious freedom and mobility by gaining the ability to drive modified vans. Work at Britten's center even enabled a woman with severe cerebral palsy to first regain the ability to drive and then to walk (with help) down the aisle for her wedding.

"Who knows the human potential?" said Britten. "We are only limited by our own expectations. It's really up to you and up to me how far we are going to drive ourselves. If we stop striving, we stop developing. Even for the severely disabled, they have so much that remains that can be developed. But they're generally not given the opportunity to do so."

Britten hopes the therapeutic exercise programs at CSUN will spur a broader interest in training practitioners who can help the seriously disabled regain the maximum amount of freedom, movement and normalcy in their lives once their acute medical care has been completed. That latter care, outside of CSUN, generally is not available, Britten said.

"I'm seeing a profession develop that says 'No, the quality of life doesn't need to end with age or disease or accident,' " Britten added. "With our aging population, this is a tremendous area of opportunity to reach out. That's why the university can play such a vital role in this, because our programs are not part of the traditional medical establishment."

Based on six months of research and travel across the country to visit other facilities that Britten did in planning for CSUN's aquatic center, the professor said he knows of no comparable facility anywhere in the United States or maybe even the world. "I know of nothing like this. This is just an unbelievable place. I get excited just talking about it."

The new 18,400-square-foot Brown Center consists of:

With the start of the spring 2003 semester, the Brown Center already is hosting four pilot aquatic exercise classes a week with about 65 clients, both CSUN students and community members. Britten said that could increase to eight and then 16 aquatic classes within a year. Meanwhile, two classes of CSUN students now are in training to work at the aquatic center.

"This has been my dream for many, many years," Britten said. "There is such an excitement about the new aquatic center, I can't even tell you."

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