Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Dan Erschen & Becky Thomas work to help patients with MS
WAUKESHA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Dan Erschen is a Waukesha business owner who's also battled multiple sclerosis. He says exercise has helped him overcome a lot of his symptoms.
"I was at a point where I couldn't feed myself. I couldn't walk. I couldn't really do much of everything," he said.
After he started working out, he was able to build strength and eventually compete in several Iron Man triathalons. He also launched MS Just Keep Moving, a gym dedicated to helping other patients with MS.
It's located inside his business, Wisconsin Metal Parts, which from the outside, and the inside, looks like a metal factory.
"You have welders going on in the back, and you have grinders going on, and we have assembly going on behind here," Erschen said, pointing out all of the work that's going on.
In the midst of all that metal, Erschen has carved out a space for people to pump some iron.
"They kind of walk around, look around. It's kind of like, is this real?" he said with a laugh.
Two times a week, MS Just Keep Moving is busy with MS patients doing all kinds of exercise.
"I really feel like I've been blessed by the progress that I've made," Erschen said.
Erschen knows how hard-won that progress is, and he wants to encourage others.
MS is a potentially disabling disease of the central nervous system.
"Their minds are fine. Their heart is fine. They can smile, they can love. They can share. They just maybe can't move the same as other people," Erschen said.
The people who come here work out for free, and Erschen said there are about 200 people on their email list.
"This is my favorite place," said member Shannon Guetzke.
Guetzke was recently able to go to the grocery store for the first time in four years. She credits the work she does at MS Just Keep Moving.
"It's the little things sometimes, that's a huge thing. To other people it's a little thing. But yeah, for me it was huge," she said.
For the last three years, there's been an added benefit here. MS Just Keep Moving has a partnership with the physical therapy program at Bryant and Stratton College. The students come in to help.
"A lot of people need help. They need help getting on the machines, and if they don't have help getting on it, then maybe they can't do it," Erschen explained.
"We're getting that muscle memory going, right," student Greg Wunrow said, as he helped a patient.
Wunrow is studying to be a physical therapist assistant.
"They trust us to do our job and we believe that they're going to be there and do the work, so it's awesome," he said.
Physical therapy program director Becky Thomas sees the difference the exercise makes for the patients.
"What we get to see is patients who've been in a chair for years and years and years, get to stand up," Thomas said.
And for some, the transformation is even greater.
"We had a guy who really wanted to walk his daughter down the aisle and there was no way that was going to happen, and we were like, oh yeah there is," Thomas said.
The students get the hands-on experience they need, and also the pride of helping change a life.
"Being here, everyone's super motivated and really, really ready to learn," Wunrow said.
"It's such an invaluable experience for them to actually not just be in class, working on each other, but to actually come here and practice their skills on patients that actually have neurological problems," Thomas added.
As for Erschen, helping people keep moving keeps him motivated, too.
"This is by far the most appreciative people that I have in my life," he said.
MS Just Keep Moving is having an open house on Saturday, Nov. 13 from 2-5 p.m.
You can find out more information at https://msjustkeepmoving.org/.
If you'd like to nominate an Everyday Hero, send Natalie a message at NShepherd@cbs58.com.