World-first immersion therapy is changing lives

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By Melissa Keogh

Adelaide man Peter Wilson’s life changed forever when he was severely injured in a motorbike accident in 2007.

A decade later the father-of-two has changed the lives of people with disabilities with his world-first therapy service, Determined2, that allows participants to enjoy freedom, regain confidence and build muscle strength.

Available on the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and Return to Work SA, ‘Immersion Therapy’ allows people with disabilities or injuries to move and breathe under water using specialised scuba diving equipment.

“One participant is walking under water and doing somersaults – this is someone who can’t walk on land,” says Peter, 37.

“Another of our participants is a wheelchair user who used to make three movements to get from their chair to the bed, but now they can do it in one.”

Peter Wilson, front, with Immersion Therapy participants.

Peter Wilson, front, with Immersion Therapy participants.

While the world first therapy is available at the Adelaide Aquatic Centre and in Port Lincoln, Peter hopes for a national roll out, and has even received interest from overseas.

At the age of 27 Peter was left with severe injuries when he came off his motorbike and was hit by a car one day during work.

He was told he might never walk again and must use a colostomy bag due to injuries to his abdomen.

But Peter defied the odds and returned to work a year later in the used car industry.

He continued to struggle with worker’s compensation, insurance companies and a decline in his mental health.

“I realised that I had to make a decision to either give up on life or start again,” Peter says.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew that I wanted to give back and help other injured workers.”

One day Peter took up recreational scuba diving, discovering the weightlessness did wonders to his wellbeing.

Wanting others with a disability to experience the same under water freedom, he began planning his own therapy service with the support of Dr David Wilkinson OAM from the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

“We met a young lad, Ben, who had a high-level spinal cord injury and he wanted to be part of the immersion therapy trial,” Peter says.

While under water, participants are able to have greater mobility due to the weightlessness of the water.

While under water participants are able to have greater mobility.

“Ben’s reaction cemented for me that this is what I’m meant to be doing with my life.

“We have built the program from the ground up, and we have since had 200 people engaged.”

Peter largely attributes his success to the State Government’s passing of the new Return To Work Act in 2015, meaning significant changes to workplace insurance rules.

Determined2 participants have mild to severe impairments including spinal cord injuries, amputations, neurological conditions, autism, PTSD, and aches and pains.

Before getting in the water, they must undergo a hypobaric medical assessment by a team of doctors.

With the specialised diving equipment, participants are able to breathe under water, and often experience pain relief and increased mobility.

“The service has developed a lot since starting, it has now gained further support from senior doctors across the state including Dr David Wilkinson, Dr Adrian Winsor and, Dr Kade Davison,” Peter says.

“The University of South Australia is now moving towards evidence-based research on the benefits of immersion therapy.”

Peter says he’s proud to have launched the therapy in South Australia.

“It feels like the first time in life that I have purpose,” he says.

“Our state has an amazing resource of innovative and dedicated people.”

Determined2 was the 2016 winner of the National Disability Awards’ Excellence in Inclusive Service Delivery.

For more information on Determinded2 visit the website.

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