"I have to say, it was one of the most wonderful things I've done in my life," Carducci says of her involvement, adding that the foundation's goal made sense. "When individuals have access to integrative care, they become more personally responsible for their care. They're not dependent on the hospital emergency-room system to take care of them. They're thinking about, 'What is going to work for me? What makes me feel better?'"

It took more than a year for Fritz Haenel to answer those questions. In March 2010, the now-39-year-old tattoo artist and machinist was a passenger in a friend's truck that was cut off by another car on the highway. The friend slammed on his brakes but lost control of the truck, which rolled three times. Haenel was thrown onto the median, which caused him to fracture a vertebra below his belly button, paralyzing him from the waist down.

He spent two months at Craig Hospital in Englewood, one of the nation's top rehabilitation hospitals. When he left, he says, he had prescriptions for a regimen of pain pills but no direction. He spent his days in bed, growing weaker and thinner until he weighed just 130 pounds and couldn't sit up on his own. The free spirit who loved to snowboard, worked with fire and steel, belonged to a badass biker club and had a skull tattoo on his neck was wasting away.

That December, Haenel heard about the SCI Recovery Project, a nonprofit gym that employs specialized trainers and adapted equipment to help people with spinal cord injuries stay strong. Even though it cost nearly twice as much as their mortgage, Haenel and his wife, Meghan, decided to try it. "We can't afford it," Meghan says, "but we can't afford not to."

The results have been dramatic. Small tasks — like putting on socks or taking off his shirt — that were impossible for Haenel before are no longer a problem. He can hoist himself in and out of his wheelchair, which isn't motorized, and he built a customized trike that he can drive with his hands. (It has a rack for his wheelchair on the back.) Most important, he feels well enough to work. He and his wife rent a warehouse in west Denver that serves as the laboratory for Haenel's new business: Big Gimpin' Choppers, custom-built adaptive bikes and hot rods.

"I did not die in that car crash, man," he says often.

But money is tight, so Haenel applied successfully for funding from the Chanda Plan Foundation after hearing about it from a friend at the SCI Recovery Project. "For the past three months," Haenel says, "I've been healthy because Chanda helped me to be healthy." His funding runs out at the end of October, and the nonprofit's rules dictate that he'll have to wait a while before applying again. Until then, he and his wife will dip into the pot of donated money they keep just in case. They hold a big fundraiser every March and maintain a website where people can donate. Instead of buying Haenel a beer at the bar, they encourage his buddies to throw in a few dollars for his workouts.

The Chanda Plan's annual budget is $250,000 and funds alternative therapies for about twenty people per year. "We could serve thousands and thousands of people," Hinton Leichtle says, "but we prefer to focus on providing thousands and thousands of treatments for a smaller number of people because we can be more impactful." But she recognizes that the need is greater than what the foundation can provide, which is why she asked Leopoldus for help.

Together they came up with a plan that would establish a pilot program, and Leopoldus found two sponsors: Senator Suzanne Williams and Representative Nancy Todd, both of Aurora, who were inspired by Hinton Leichtle's story. "Some of the things we talk about with legislation, oftentimes it becomes just a bill," Todd says. "But this became a life-changer."

Medicaid does not normally fund alternative therapies, also known as integrative therapies. Instead, it pays for traditional health care with a mix of federal and state money. Each state manages its own Medicaid program and can ask the feds for what are called "waivers," which allow states to test new ways of delivering health-care services. That's exactly what Hinton Leichtle is aiming to do with the alternative-therapies pilot program. It's an innovative idea she says isn't being carried out anywhere else in the United States. Florida had a somewhat similar pilot program for several years, but it ended in 2010. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services declined to comment about whether Colorado's program is the first of its kind.

When they introduced the bill in 2008, Hinton Leichtle gathered doctors — including her own — along with several people with spinal cord injuries and their families, to testify.

"Until I got regular massage four years ago, I had pain in my shoulders," Jason Regier, who is quadriplegic, told the House Health and Human Services Committee. "Now I do twice the activities and I'm pain-free." Regier was paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident in 1996. A lifelong athlete, he soon discovered wheelchair rugby, a full-contact sport played on a basketball-sized court, and went on to make the Paralympic team, winning a gold medal in 2008 and a bronze in 2012. Back in 2008, he told lawmakers, acupuncture helped wean him off his muscle-spasm medication, and chiropractic cured a near-fusion of his sacrum, the triangular bone at the bottom of the spinal cord, which doctors thought was permanently damaged.

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Hi Chanda, I appreciate all you are doing to try and help others with spinal cord injury. I have an L1-L2 level injury from an accident when I was sixteen years old. Today I am walking with crutches, but I have worked really hard in physical therapy for a lot of years to walk.You can learn more about my story: http://zinahermez.wordpress.com  I agree with you, and I have never been a fan of pain medication myself. 

patricia.calhoun moderator editortopcommenter

we'd like to publish some of these comments in our print edition, ideally with the author's full name/town. If that's okay, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com


Thanks Westword for alerting us to the use of the Medicaid waiver program to waste taxpayer money.

No one wants to say no to pretty victims of spinal cord injuries like Chandra, or self-motivated men like Mr. Haenel, so it is easy to see how the Chandra foundation has made progress. Sadly, its goals are clear--to get public money for unproven treatments.


Conventional medicine is based on scientific knowledge whereas alternative medicine is based on clinical or anecdotal evidence. We have an entire wing of National Institute of Health devoted to trying to prove that alternative therapies work (with little success, I add), and their website states: "there is insufficient evidence to draw definite conclusions about the effectiveness of acupuncture for acute low-back pain."


There are no control groups to this pilot program, and the medical person administering it is someone with a vested interest in the therapies offered. Proven treatments like physical therapy are lumped in with pseudo medicine, invalidating any objective demonstration of success that may come from the program. However popular these alternative therapies might be, we need to see evidence that they work.


I hope Colorado citizens and legislatures will thank the Chandra foundation for ironing out kinks in the Waiver program while demonstrating exactly how to suck scarce dollars from taxpayers in the name of the disabled. I also hope we demonstrate our thanks by showing poorly designed programs out the door, because our Medicaid patients deserve better.



gee Westword, could you make the lede to the story a little more lurid?

"carries her, like a bride over a threshold. He props a pillow between her legs, hikes up her redNebraska Huskers T-shirt, unwraps his sterile needles and taps them into the skin above where her black lace underwear peeks out from the top of her yoga pants."



Great! Will medicare start paying for my Budweiser? It kick-starts my kidneys, bladder and ureter and I prefer it to noxious drugs. 


this is fantastic news...now to get california to step up...thanks for your hard work


@notonmydime I certainly hope you never have a family member to suffer from a spinal cord injury and have only drugs with horrible side effects to deal with their health issues.  Please, where is your compassion?  Not all things are known and able to be proven by a medical system that will not listen to information that does not pad the pockets of  big pharma.  Is not the word of the patients any good for whether the alternative health care is working for them.  Would you rather pay for a surgery and and hospital bill with medicaid dollars than to pay for a few acupuncture treatments that takes care of the problem with no side effects?  Please open your mind and learn more about this issue before condemning disabled people to issues you can not begin to understand.



 @kcm2us I won't pay for you Bud but maybe it will pay for your rehab.


Medicaid and private insurance should both be paying for effective rehab, but this is a poorly designed program. We could just as well pay for toothpick based placebo treatment and point to its cost-effectiveness.