Game-changing clinic arrives in Niagara
The origins of the Pelino Athletic Performance Centre can be traced back to a terrifying incident in August 2014.
Promising junior hockey player Ben Fox was taking part in a practice in Port Colborne when he suffered a spontaneous and sudden stroke. It was so severe part of his skull bone had to be temporarily removed to compensate for the swelling in his brain and he was paralyzed on the left side.
“It should have and could have been fatal, but he heroically survived,” said Dr. Joe Pelino, a lifetime friend of Ben’s father, Spencer Fox, the president of E.S. Fox Limited.
Pelino was enlisted to help in Ben’s recovery afterwards and he sourced out the best treatment world-wide.
“After the initial survival phase at the McMaster Neuro unit and the rehab facility in Toronto, we got together and looked at what was out there that was over and above available treatments.”
Those treatments included: dealing with the symptoms using conventional medications; neurological medicine; alternative medicine looking at nutrition and mineralogy; and, treatments by clinicians who do Applied Kinesiology, Chiropractic, Osteopathy, and other clinicians.
“It all made a difference. Going down the line, we found that there were good indications that a hyperbaric medical level of oxygen could be a very good thing for a stroke a year or a year and a half afterwards,” Pelino said. “The brain was dormant and we engaged in a protocol of it at Buffalo hospital, which called for 40 consecutive sessions of a 90-minute dive concept like you are diving in a submarine but in a stationary chamber where compressed oxygen has some magnificent healing leading to cellular recovery.”
Other promising options were found.
“The family had him involved in a pool that had a treadmill and we spent a lot of time together figuring out movement patterns and collaborating with his physical and occupational therapy teams,” he said. “Literally as a team, we tackled a bunch of different protocols and techniques. We went to Harvard, San Diego, London, England and Italy and we had some equipment designed and made and all of that is going to be here in this clinic.”
Ben has made an impressive recovery and the Niagara University grad is preparing to attend law school. The tools that made significant differences in his recovery were the starting point of the assembly of tools that will be at the new facility. First and foremost are the hyperbaric medicine chambers and the therapy pools.
“He improved and it was enough that the family decided to look at building a clinic in Niagara that inasmuch that it could be helpful for him but helpful also for others,” Pelino said. “It showed the need for things we saw that he benefited from that are good for any athlete and any person, however injured.”
The soon-to-be-opened, 10,000-square foot facility on Montrose Road near the new hospital site — a site that will include the Fox Family Stroke Centre of Excellence — will be a unique and exciting addition to Niagara.
It will feature: the aforementioned medical grade hyperbaric medicine chambers; training pools equipped with underwater treadmills; multiple treatment rooms; next generation technology and therapeutic techniques; a very large collection of cognitive training and athlete testing equipment; a custom two-metre sprint treadmill with harness and gait analysis; cold and hot tubs; a five-seven person infrared sauna; other advanced recovery tools like the NovoTHOR red light therapy bed and EWOT (exercise with oxygen therapy); and a modern interior design.
Although the facility will provide elite services with very expensive tools and technology, it is striving to maintain its services at a competitive price in an effort to make it accessible and attainable to the Niagara community.
The centre has gone above and beyond to ensure that the facility truly is for everybody. Both to ensure complete accessibility for all patients, athletes, spectators and staff, and to also attract para-athletes and special olympians to Niagara for training as well.
“Our business model is that we are for all athletes and their fans. Even if sport is not a part of your life, we treat everyone like an athlete,” operations director Laura Micevic said. “Our entire philosophy is to get you recovered in the shortest amount of time possible, which isn’t always the case in the world of therapy. It is built on the successful way that athletes are treated. That is what Joe is used to and the locker room style of care and treatment is where he comes from. We are trying to take that model of doing whatever it takes for the patient to get them back to their life as soon as possible. Just because you are not on a pro contract and don’t need to get back to play soon, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to play with your grandkids faster or get back to work faster after an injury.”
Pelino, a 61-year-old Welland native and Notre Dame grad who knew he wanted to be a chiropractor from a young age, has an impressive locker room history.
That history started because of a connection with NHL agent Pat Morris, who was Pelino’s friend and teammate on a University of Toronto hockey team that won an Ontario university crown.
“He is the one who sparked the biggest part of my NHL career as a chiropractor by bringing his top player, Rob Zamuner, with unresolved injuries to me,” Pelino said. “That guy ended up bringing me all around the league and ultimately I was hired by Bob Goodenow to work as a consultant for the NHL players union while working simultaneously with several players and some teams.”
He also worked with Eddie Belfour, Martin Havlat, Kevin Dineen, Daniel Alfredsson, Zdeno Chara and Brad May to name just a few.
“I have been in every possible situation, I have been snuck into a rink and I have been hidden in a hotel to take care of the guys.”
Pelino remembers one playoff series when he was treating May’s shoulder between shifts.
“They snuck me into the alley way behind the Buffalo Sabres bench to do it. It was a playoff game and he had to get through it. He couldn’t afford to fight because his shoulder would come out of joint again. It was an epic experience.”
Through his hockey work, Pelino got to know Professional Hockey Players Association executive director Larry Landon and he consults for the PHPA as a member of its workers compensation panel.
Pelino also worked with the Toronto Raptors for six years, treating players such as Vince Carter, Antonio Davis, Tracy McGrady, Charles Oakley and Alvin Williams.
“They had a high rate of injuries and they needed other solutions,” Pelino said.
He credits his training under Dr. Doug Richards at the University of Toronto David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic for his overall philosophy.
“He had me there side by side with physicians, physiotherapists, massage therapists and athletic therapists in a culture that I am building and have built here. We work together in a collaborative fashion.”
Micevic echoes those comments.
“The combined experience between the physiotherapist and chiropractor, alongside the advanced technology being housed and the overall focus on the brain, is what differentiates this new facility from other treatment facilities,” she said. “Providing a simultaneous collaborative approach to treatment and recovery with an experienced team of therapists and doctors, working toward one goal or outcome in a time efficient manner, contrasts how our current healthcare system works. And looking more into how the brain can be utilized in recovery and performance, as well as a cellular approach to high performance healing is the future.”
Micevic is excited about the future of the centre.
“We have an anticipation of rapid growth because there is nothing else like it anywhere in North America,” she said. “I have searched everywhere for something comparable and while there are a lot of places that have parts of what we have, no one is operating the same four entities under the same roof, including all of the technology tools and techniques that we have to offer. We hope to utilize all of these amazing features and data that we can generate, to publish lots of new research in the world of sport medicine, concussion, therapy and athletic performance and recovery. It truly will be something special.”
The clinic’s four entities include: hyperbaric medicine and other medical services; the therapy and rehab division with chiropractic physiotherapy and neurophysiotherapy; athlete development cognition training; and, biohacking (hacking your biology as a human to use technology and modern innovation to change your biology).
The last entity is an interesting one for Micevic.
“We look at health on a cellular level. Biohacking and wellness is clinical in nature and we recommend the best approaches, but clients can choose their own adventure by picking different things that are great for their own health and wellness,” she said. “It empowers clients to make changes to their bodies, diet, and lifestyle to improve their overall health and well-being, both mentally and physically.”
The clinic has been in a temporary space at the Montrose Road location since last September. Prior to that it was located in the north end of Niagara Falls at Mount Carmel Centre and an industrial area on Martindale Road.
“Construction is a fickle beast as we have learned over the last two years but if all goes as now anticipated, we expect to open the new facility this coming July,” Micevic said.
The clinic plans to have community open house this summer and will plan for an official grand opening in September.
It has already established partnerships with the Niagara IceDogs, Niagara River Lions, the Fort Erie International Academy female hockey program, Pelham Panthers Junior B hockey team and Elite Soccer Development. Many other partnerships will be announced in the coming months with amateur and pro organizations.
Pelino APC is currently accepting new patients, clients and 2nd opinions at their temporary facility, located right next door to the construction site of their new facility.