Przybysz Is Part Of Joint Venture

December 20, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Local businessman Bob Przybysz has jumped back into the physical therapy and sports medicine business, and in a big way.

After an eight-year absence from the field, he recently became a partner in Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers (ARC) and is setting up a statewide network for the Chicago-based company. Creating that network of rehab facilities is something that Przybysz has wanted to do for years, even after he sold his rehab business in 1994 and left the field to buy the Grand Rapids Hoops.

But Przybysz doesn’t want to set up the chain in the normal fashion, by acquiring clinics and private practices. Instead, he wants to develop a network of affiliated clinics across the state that could be purchased at a later date.

“These firms would join us as an affiliate and we would develop an exit strategy with them and basically take out an option to buy them at some point in the future. We’ll try to improve their business function, improve their clinical function, and five or 10 years down the road look at selling the affiliate network,” he said.

ARC liked his concept and gave Przybysz the go-ahead.

But that’s not the end of the story. In fact, it’s only half of it.

In addition to using a different tactic to build the network, Przybysz will also employ a different treatment method in the network once it’s built. It’s called a functional approach, which on the surface seems to be a slight misnomer because the method is considered to be a fairly innovative technique for the field.

The functional approach is the brainchild of Gary Gray, a noted physical therapist of 26 years who is based in Adrian. Gray recently earned the celebrated 2002 Maley Award, given annually by the American Physical Therapy Association for contributions to innovation and leadership in the field. Gray’s clinics were the first to join the network, and he joined Przybysz as a partner in the new venture.

“His name is probably the most recognized in the country (in the field), and he is a wonderful man. He is a great Christian guy and is down to earth,” said Przybysz of Gray.

Przybysz said Gray’s approach bucks tradition in the rehab field which doesn’t limit treatment to an injured area or the situation in which it was injured. Gray treats the injured area along with parts of the body that are linked to it, and the treatment is applied in a manner that the patient can function pain-free in everyday activities.

“His philosophy will work for elementary-aged kids all the way up to senior citizens,” said Przybysz.

Professional athletes also have used Gray to help them overcome injuries. Just a few that he has treated include Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dan Marino — and Mario Lemieux, who probably has the most famous back in the history of big-time hockey and who provides an example of what Gray does.

“He had retired from hockey after two back surgeries. His doctor was kind enough to bring him to Adrian for us to take a peek at him. When he came to us, he had no intention of playing hockey again. All he wanted to do was play golf and pick up his daughter, who was a year old at that time,” said Gray.

“He had no problem with his back even though he had two back surgeries. He was recovering from his Hodgkin’s disease, and his whole problem was his right hip. We didn’t treat him — but we taught him how to treat his right hip,” Gray added.

The following year Lemieux was named the MVP of the National Hockey League, and this year he leads the NHL in scoring.

So Gray’s philosophy is that a problem can often originate from some place other than where the patient feels pain. His method also has a preventive side to it, and Gray sees his practice as having a solid business future.

That is the terrain of Bob Wiersma. He, too, is a physical therapist and a partner in the project, but one that has expertise in the areas of joint ventures and the resulting business practices from such alliances. Wiersma is convinced there are three reasons why there is a need for the service they will provide.

One is that the country’s senior population will increase by 79 percent by 2015, meaning more will be afflicted with arthritis. Another is that the cost of workmen’s compensation and health insurance is likely to grow by double digits for employers and employees for a while. Finally, obesity is rising rapidly among the nation’s 54 million children.

“The Surgeon General identified that obesity and a lack of fitness is a national epidemic at this point. A functional approach there seems to be a very important element to the overall answer,” said Wiersma. “When you put those three pieces together we think there is a huge opportunity and a huge need that we can begin to address.”

ARC has 70 offices in seven states. Four Przybysz-started ARC clinics have opened in the metro area — one each in Cascade, downtown Grand Rapids, Standale and Grandville — and four venture capitalists are keen on backing the statewide venture.

Once the network is up and running, Przybysz said his next goal is to start a functional medicine academy here. He sees it as an educational and research wing that could lead to the development of a new field in medicine.

For that to happen, though, local physicians need to learn about Gray’s approach and patients are going to have to demand it.

“This type of new medicine, so to speak, has been needed for years,” said Gray. “But it’s almost going to be not a luxury anymore. It’s going to have to become a necessity if we’re going to allow some of us just to enjoy life a little longer.”           

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