KU professor walks across Kansas to promote stroke research

May 16, 2013

By Andy Hyland (photos by Steve Puppe)

Michael Thomas and Sandra Billinger, Ph.D., PT

A University of Kansas Medical Center professor whose research focuses on the benefits of exercise after stroke will walk across the entire state of Kansas this month in support of National Stroke Awareness Month and Exercise Is Medicine month in May.

Sandra Billinger, Ph.D., PT, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, will walk with her son Michael Thomas, who will turn 20 years old during their trip.

They plan to walk a route covering 570 miles from the Colorado/Kansas state line just west of Coolidge, Kan., to the Kansas/Missouri state line at the KU Medical Center campus near 39th Avenue and State Line Road in Kansas City, Kan.

"We hope that by walking, we will help do two things," Billinger says. "First, we hope to raise awareness about the benefits of physical activity, especially after a stroke. And second, we hope to raise money for new equipment to help us better understand brain recovery after stroke."

The walk began on May 16, about two miles west of Coolidge, Kan. May 27 was the pair's 12th day on the route, and by day's end they reached Lyons, Kan., on schedule. The day marked the halfway point of their 23-day journey. They hope to reach the eastern state line by June 7, averaging about 25 miles each day."

"It kind of started out as a joke," Thomas says. "But the idea just grew and grew as we kept on talking about it."

Their route follows roughly along the Santa Fe Trail in Kansas, and includes stops in Garden City, Dodge City, Great Bend, McPherson, Lawrence and Overland Park. (Click here for the complete route). The pair plan to post updates to their trip on Facebook, and those interested in following along can "like" the page for updates. Billinger also plans to post updates to her Twitter account.

The funds raised in support of the walk will be used to purchase new equipment that will help Billinger and her team of researchers better measure brain blood flow so that they can get answers to key questions about how exercise can help people recover from stroke.

Both Billinger and her son trained for the walk by walking long distances, and spending time in the gym doing a lot of squats and leg presses.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the United States, and the fourth leading cause of death. Kansas residents experience about 55,000 strokes each year, with a 46.5 percent average mortality rate.

Billinger was inspired to pursue a career in physical therapy after going through a lengthy recovery from a severe car accident in 1993. Thomas, too, plans to pursue a career in physical therapy and sports medicine.

"Hopefully, we can inspire others to be physically active and help them lower their risk of developing stroke and numerous other medical conditions," Billinger says.

She and her son hope to raise $50,000 during her walk. Anyone interested can donate and learn more about her story by visiting the walk's website.

The website also includes a section where people can sign up to walk with Billinger and her son for a portion of the walk when she is scheduled to arrive back in Kansas City on June 7.

Billinger's research is supported in part by a K01 training grant from the National Institutes of Health (grant number K01 HD067318) and a pilot grant award from Frontiers: The Heartland Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, which offers early-stage funding for clinical research projects. Frontiers is supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, a division of the NIH (grant number UL TR000001).


Last modified: May 28, 2013