Top Doctors: Rooftop Rehab

Attorney Jerry Segal had conquered plenty of challenges by the time he left -Magee Rehabilitation Center in 1989, five months after spinal surgery left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. He’d learned to feed himself, write letters, even walk with a -walker — despite doctors’ predictions he might never get out of a wheelchair again. But it was on his way to dinner on his second day out of the hospital that Segal faced the most daunting obstacle: a curb. “It looked like Mount Everest,” says Segal. “That’s when I realized the world is not made up of the flat linoleum floor of the hospital.”

That night, it took Segal 30 minutes to get out of the car, over the curb and uneven pavement, and into the front door of London Grill. It was not an experience he wished on anyone else. So a year later, he helped Magee open the Jerry and Carolyn Segal Center for Community Skills, a rooftop cityscape with curbs, cobblestones, ATM machines, phone booths and a two-door car — the everyday barriers disabled patients must master to live independently in the city. Ed Bernatavicius, paralyzed from the chest down by a bullet in 1994, at age 21, spent three months at Magee getting used to life in a wheelchair. On the roof, he learned to hop curbs with a wheelie and put himself in the driver’s seat of a car—all in the scorching heat and torrential rain of a summer in Philly. “Differently abled people can’t just stay inside when the weather’s bad,” Segal notes. “We have to learn to function all year round.”

Bernatavicius, now a lawyer himself, living in Jersey, married and with a daughter, credits the Segal Center with helping him conquer his biggest obstacle: fear. “To go out in the community for the first time with a spinal cord injury is really hard,” he says. “But I learned the skills I needed — and how to get up if I fall. It gave me confidence to live my life independently.”