‘Souls free’ of stigma gain social mobility in India’s first Integrated Spinal Rehabilitation Centre

Left wheelchair-bound since age 18, Preethi decided to drive her life’s car and launched India’s first integrated spinal rehab centre 
Soulfree INSPIRE Centre provides personalised, holistic treatment for people with life-altering spinal cord injuries | s dinesh
Soulfree INSPIRE Centre provides personalised, holistic treatment for people with life-altering spinal cord injuries | s dinesh

TIRUVANNAMALAI: A seemingly ordinary day, nearly a quarter of century ago, took an unexpected turn for the then 18-year-old Preethi Srinivasan, when a minor stumble turned into a life-altering incident. The day began with laughter and joy as Preethi and her friends frolicked in the waves of a seemingly serene beach. However, destiny had other plans when she suddenly collapsed there.

Preethi vividly remembers the shock-like sensation travelling through her body. Paralyzed and struggling to breathe, her friends rushed her to a hospital in Pondicherry and then to one in Chennai after a four-hour delay. The Tiruvannamalai native still believes that misdiagnosis of her condition as an accident and the delay in getting proper medical care confined her to the wheelchair to this date.

The aftermath of this incident was a complete transformation for Preethi. Her once vibrant life as the captain of the under-19 Tamil Nadu women’s cricket team, a champion swimmer, and an exemplary student vanished overnight. She even faced rejection when attempting to enrol in college due to the inaccessibility of classrooms. “Regrettably, India offers scarce considerations for individuals with disabilities,” says Preethi.

Since that life-altering day, Preethi’s journey has been arduous, filled with near-death experiences and moments of miraculous recovery. Despite all odds, she graduated in psychology with good grades. It is the unwavering determination of her mother and grandmother that brought her back.Years later, fueled by the dire state of medical facilities for spinal cord injury, social stigma and lack of support system for social reintegration, Preethi and her mother decided to do their bit and Soulfree was born in 2013.

Soulfree, a public charitable trust, strives to offer a life of dignity and purpose to persons facing a lifetime of paralysis after spinal cord injury, with a focus on women and those living below the poverty line. The organisation disseminates knowledge about spinal cord injuries, urging people to understand the gravity of this condition.

Additionally, Soulfree endeavours to establish a robust support system for individuals with disabilities and their families through donations, educational and employment opportunities. Among various initiatives, Soulfree concentrates on mobility, bed sores, and a gift box, which includes whatever is required for people with spinal cord injuries.

Their stipend programme grants a monthly sum of Rs 2,000 to those grappling with quadriplegia and struggling to sustain themselves. The organisation also facilitates the donation of wheelchairs and other mobility aids and provides support for medical care. Keeping the mental health of these individuals in mind, it also assists them with routine conference calls.  

In 2021, Preethi gave life to another dream, The Soulfree INSPIRE Centre – India’s first Integrated Spinal Rehabilitation Centre. It is a 20,000-square-foot facility in Tiruvannamalai that provides personalised, holistic treatment for people with life-altering spinal cord injuries and are paralysed.  

“I was completely paralysed after an accident in Nilgiris and got to know about Soulfree and the Soulfree INSPIRE Centre via YouTube. I sensed hope and felt confident after visiting the facility. Now, I am ready to continue my career as a nurse or start a new business. All thanks to Soulfree, the centre is a blessing for me,” says 29-year-old Sandhiya, who received treatment at Soulfree.

Further, Preethi said, with approximately 25% of the population living with disabilities in India, it is imperative for persons with disability to be properly represented in government and positions of power. Their presence would not only provide accurate representation but also enable better policy-making that caters to the unique needs of the disabled community. She also emphasised the need to promote equitable opportunities in education and employment. “By reserving seats, disabled students can access quality education, break barriers and achieve their full potential,” she says.

To fund these initiatives, Preethi takes on speaking assignments and delivers motivational speeches. In return, she asks companies to contribute to the trust as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives.

To learn more about Soulfree, join their cause or seek help, contact: 9994282299, or admin@soulfree.org

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The New Indian Express