Tartaglione takes steps toward recovery

Sen. Christine Tartaglione and two others are honored at MossRehab.

JOHN COLE / TIMES PHOTO

To say it was a powerful night would be a huge understatement. Last Thursday night was a work of art.

On April 12, MossRehab’s main campus, 60 Township Line Road, Elkins Park, held a reception to open its annual All About Art exhibition and honor state Sen. Christine Tartaglione and two of her fellow patients there.

Tartaglione took her first steps in 18 months to deliver her speech and present the Empowerment Awards to Alysse Einbender and Jack Cavanaugh.

Tartaglione suffered a severe spinal cord injury in a 2003 boating accident at the Jersey Shore and has required the use of a wheelchair since then.

“I’ve been sitting in that chair for 15 years and I can’t tell you what it feels like to be able to stand here today and have some air,” Tartaglione said, standing at the podium.

She was able to make her way from the back of the room to the podium with assistance of the newest version of the ReWalk exoskeleton.

“The device is essentially an exoskeleton…., you wear around your legs and low back,” said Dr. Alberto Esquenazi. “The device has a computer and batteries and every time she takes a step forward, the system knows that she wants to take the next step. That’s how the system generates walking.”

Tartaglione discussed the struggles she dealt with after the spinal cord injury.

“I went through so many stages, I pitied myself, I was angry, but I finally realized that God wanted me to be an advocate for physically challenged people because I am in a place where I can do that,” Tartaglione said as the room applauded. “And I intend to do that.”

Tartaglione established Pennsylvania’s Office for People with Disabilities. This office provides “many services for people who may need assistance in their day-to-day lives.”

In October 2016, Tartaglione started training with the ReWalk device, but unfortunately injured herself and broke both bones in her lower leg.

This injury required quite a bit of time to heal, but Tartaglione was eager to get back to the ReWalk device when she was given approval.

Just seven days before the ceremony, Tartaglione was given the approval to test the new ReWalk device. Esquenazi was impressed with Tartaglione’s progress in that short period of time and knows she’ll continue to move forward.

JOHN COLE / TIMES PHOTO

“And she’ll get even better than this just as she practices more,” Esquenazi said.

Tartaglione, Einbender, and Cavanaugh all praised MossRehab for the care they have been received.

The night also included taking in the All About Art exhibit at MossRehab. In 1979, MossRehab became the first place on the East Coast to exhibit the artwork created by professional artists with disabilities.

Since then, hundreds of pieces are submitted worldwide to this free exhibit present at MossRehab. “Far away as India, France and Canada,” said Deborah Krupp, from All About Art.

This year’s exhibit portrayed the works from 79 different artists varying from different forms of art such as paper, canvas, mixed media, oil paintings, watercolors, sculptures, photography and jewelry.

Einbender, one of the recipients of the Empowerment Award and project manager for All About Art, credits MossRehab for being ahead of its time with this exhibit.

“Back in ’79, disability wasn’t out in the public eye,” Einbender said.

She cited the advancements made since then, such as curb cuts in the sidewalks, handicap parking, wider doorways and accessible bathrooms.

This year’s exhibit contains about 350 pieces of art and includes works from 21 new artists. There are two judges selected from the Philadelphia art scene each year to give awards.

“They are blown away by what they see,” says Krupp.

The art can also be purchased in person or online at mossrehab.com/all-about-art

The exhibit will be open to the public until May 30. ••

John Cole can be reached at JCole@bsmphilly.com