History overview

2018

“A little is never enough.
For us, it’s all or nothing.”

Guido A. Zäch

A brand new look

The newly designed Swiss Paraplegic Group website paraplegia.ch will go online in April 2018. Its contents have been rearranged for a better layout and an improved reading experience. Thanks to its easy-to-use navigation, visitors can quickly access the information they need. Its “responsive design”, which adapts the content to fit a variety of different devices, is both state-of-the-art and extremely user-friendly. What’s more, the new website is also accessible to those with disabilities.

Beginning of construction on the visitor centre

The ground-breaking ceremony for the new visitor centre took place at the beginning of March 2018. 

Active Communication becomes a new subsidiary of the SPF

Active Communication AG became a subsidiary of the Swiss Paraplegic Foundation (SPF) on 1 January 2018. Since 1999, the SPF has been providing people who suffer from disabilities and/or neurological disorders with electronic and teaching aids to allow them to develop their autonomy and participate more fully in their everyday lives. The company is based in Steinhausen in the Canton of Zug.

The SPF builds the Innovation Centre for Assistive Technology

Along with its new subsidiary, the SPF has created the Innovation Centre for Assistive Technology to ensure patients continue to enjoy access to all the latest resources in the future. As a centre of expertise and knowledge factory, this centre is a point of contact for the development and enhancement of resources for people with spinal cord injuries. The IAT is based in Nottwil (Canton of Lucerne) and Sierre (Canton of Valais).

2015

SPG anniversaries: “Making dreams a reality: yesterday – today – tomorrow”

jubilaeums-ballon

On 24 and 25 October 2015, over 9,000 visitors took part in the Swiss Paraplegic Group’s anniversary celebration. There was, indeed, a lot to commemorate: the Swiss Paraplegic Foundation turned 40, while the Swiss Paraplegics Association, the Swiss Paraplegia Centre and Swiss Paraplegia Research celebrated their 35th, 25th and 15th anniversaries, respectively. What’s more, Guido A. Zäch, Founder and Honorary President of the Foundation, celebrated his 80th birthday.

“We wanted to help people learn to fend for themselves,
without having to rely on handouts.”

Guido A. Zäch with Silvia Buscher

Guido A. Zäch vor seinem Geburtstagsgeschenk
Guido A. Zäch mit seiner langjährigen Wegbegleiterin Silvia Buscher

An open house that is well worth the visit

For two days, the Nottwil campus invited the public to discover how it “makes dreams a reality: yesterday – today – tomorrow”. The various departments and fields presented their work at stands in the SPF meeting hall and the GZI.  

The SPF anniversary film

In celebration of these events, a 12-minute anniversary film was made, which can also be viewed in three separate segments.

Guido A. Zäch becomes an honorary citizen of Nottwil

At the official anniversary celebration, the Nottwil Town Council made founder and pioneer Guido A. Zäch an honorary citizen of the town. Walter Steffen, Nottwil Town Council President, was delighted to present the award “as a token of appreciation for the lifelong work of Guido A. Zäch and an enormous thank you for all the service rendered”.

“Guido A. Zäch gave wheelchair users a voice and an identity. He spread awareness among the public and deepened understanding, including here in Nottwil.”

Walter Steffen, Nottwil Town Council President

Walter Steffen verleiht Guido A. Zäch die Ehrenbürgerschaft von Nottwil.

Interesting documents

Ground-breaking ceremony for the SPC expansion

The success story continues

On 1 October 2015, the Directors of the Swiss Paraplegic Foundation and Swiss Paraplegic Centre gave the go-ahead for a four-year-long construction project.

The purpose of the construction project is to allow the SPF to meet its growing needs well into the future. The SPF wishes to maintain its pioneering and leading roles in the fields of acute medicine, rehabilitation and lifelong assistance to people with spinal cord injuries for many years to come.

“Patients, as well as the complexity of their injuries and diseases, have changed – new demands are being placed on our staff, processes and infrastructure.”

 

Hans Peter Gmünder, Director of the SPC

Luftaufnahme SPZ vor Baubeginn

High bed occupancy

The Swiss Paraplegic Centre (SPC) has a bed occupancy rate of around 97%. The clinic has therefore reached the limits of its capacity. We hope to be able to go on meeting the needs of an ever-increasing population whose life expectancy continues to rise, and who consequently suffer more and more spinal cord injuries due to diseases. To do so, we need more room.

Additional information

1990

The Swiss Paraplegic Centre (SPC) expansion

The Swiss Paraplegic Centre (SPC) is being outfitted with a number of unconventional new fixtures, including a fire brigade, gymnasium, sports arena with timing tower, tennis court, indoor swimming pool, farming estate, biotope, public pharmacy, chapel, workshop for vehicle conversions and emergency medical training centre.

Bautafel 1990

The construction panel announcing the Swiss Paraplegic Centre expansion

The SPC has never been like other clinics. Nor did it want to be, as that would have flown in the face of the centre’s ambition and mission to allow people living with spinal cord injuries to receive comprehensive support and rehabilitation under one roof. Not to mention the goal of offering state-of-the-art medicine that is traditional yet connected, cutting-edge and diverse. In other words, something Switzerland had never seen before. At the same time, the SPC was transformed into a meeting place for people of all backgrounds, an art gallery, a sports and research area, an event space and even the set of a multiple award-winning documentary.

“On the way to Nottwil, they said we were going to visit a hospital. But during our visit, I never had the feeling – not even for one minute – that we were in a hospital.”

The beginnings of the SPC

A number of different sites were considered for the new private clinic. The first of these sites, in the town of Risch (Canton of Zug), did not receive sufficient support from the public during a vote held in 1984. The search for an ideal location came to an end in Nottwil in the Canton of Lucerne, with a piece of land nestled between Lake Sempach (Sempachersee) and Kantonsstrasse, which at the time belonged to the Eichhof brewery in Lucerne. The town of Nottwil, the Foundation and the property sellers quickly came to an agreement. On 5 July 1985, the municipal assembly voted in favour of the construction project.

104 beds and 250 jobs

After two years of preparation, the SPC ground-breaking ceremony was held on 12 March 1987. The first excavations got underway in the summer of 1987. 100,000 cubic metres of earth had to be dug up and the building site staked. Just seven months later, Guido A. Zäch and friends laid the foundation stone for the buildings. Finally the SPC emerged, along with 104 beds and 250 new full-time jobs.

The staff gradually began to take up their duties in the spring of 1990. The Swiss Paraplegic Centre first opened its doors to the public on 8 and 9 September 1990 in a budding spirit of solidarity. Around 10,000 guests were on hand for the house-warming party. On 1 October 1990, the very first patient arrived in Nottwil: an 18-year-old boy from the Canton of Aargau. Severely injured during a gymnastics practice session, he was subsequently diagnosed with tetraplegia.

  • Between the first rounds of the day and the night watch, a number of things have happened which you won’t find on any treatment or care plan. In the Intensive Care Unit, an anaesthesiologist sat down to enjoy a cigar. To be on the safe side, he wrapped a surgical glove around the smoke detector (in vain). The gym was (mis)used by pigeons as a playground. It took a while for their odour to disappear, even with all the sweating by the athletes. A rather well-off private patient disappeared without paying, never to be seen again. The members of the emergency team may well have been asked to rush to Nottwil in the middle of the night, but because of a misunderstanding in the alarm centre, their rescue helicopter landed in a different location. The Director of the plant nursery was a man of many trades, working as a butcher during his free time to help keep the population of Heidschnucke sheep under control.

    Thankfully, the patients were more or less unaware of these and other unforeseeable “operational problems". They could always rely on the competent care and attentive supervision of our nursing and medical staff.

“How would you like it, if....?”

Guido A. Zäch

The SPC needs more space

The SPC was faced with an ever-increasing demand for para- and tetraplegia services from the very first day of its opening. It wasn’t long before resources ran short and an expansion became necessary. As a first step, the Care Wing was enlarged and more rooms were created for therapy. These developments enabled the centre to offer 140 beds instead of 104.
About four years later, the Northwest Wing was built to accompany the pain clinic, orthopaedic workshop, wheelchair mechanics department, IT centre and counselling services. Another new construction, the connecting bridge between the two treatment wings, became the new home for outpatient surgery, physiotherapy, various examination rooms and spaces for intensive care.

Spatenstich Erweiterungsbauten

Ground-breaking ceremony for the extensions

Guests from all over the world

During the first decade, the clinic, which was hoped by its embittered opponents to “fall to ruins”, began to build a shimmering reputation for itself, both in Switzerland and beyond. The SPC regularly welcomed magistrates as well as key figures from business, science, culture, show business and sport. Paraplegia professionals from all over the world gathered in Nottwil for conventions. Thousands of visitors flocked to the Lake Sempach region for open houses. All this buzz left a lasting impact on the centre, not only with regard to its personnel statistics, number of beds/care days, budgets and organisation, but especially to its ability to enhance the care it offered to people with spinal cord injuries.

The SPC regularly welcomed magistrates as well as key figures from business, science, culture, show business and sport.

The Brazilian National Football Team in Nottwil

Brasilianische Nationalmannschaft

International guests at the SPC

The SPC stands for innovation

Boasting a pain clinic, state-of-the-art diagnosis equipment and new surgical techniques, the SPC has never shied away from innovation. The SPC was the first centre in Europe to provide treatment to tetraplegics using the Freehand System. In the neuro-urology department, more and more babies were born to happy parents living with spinal cord injuries. Patients no longer needed to lug poster-sized x-rays under their arms... such images were transmitted online in a flash. The SPC is home to one of Switzerland’s very first EOS x-ray machines. This machine is used to produce 3D images. Examinations are done with the patient standing, or sitting in one of the SPC’s specially designed chairs, which provide great relief for people with spinal cord injuries. The clinic also has an exoskeleton which it uses for medical and therapeutic purposes. And in the pharmacy, a medicine-distributing robot supplies patients with their medications.

Just like other healthcare institutions, the SPC faces increasing administrative costs for its medical staff, as well as ongoing operational fees and pressure from its sponsors to save money.

Magnet hospital

Being named a magnet hospital is no small matter. An even bigger challenge lies in remaining one. To do so, the SPC must continue to offer superior and modern medical/therapeutic services in the areas they know best, and develop related fields based on the latest innovations:

  • Weaning from mechanical ventilation
  • Treatment of musculoskeletal pain or paraplegia in the elderly
  • Special surgery (Tetrahand)
  • Professional assistance with workforce reintegration
SPZ-Eingang bei Nacht

SPC milestones

  • 1979

    The Ernst Göhner Foundation provides land in Risch (Canton of Zug) for the construction of a specialist clinic for paraplegics.

  • 1984

    The residents of the municipality of Risch reject the re-zoning proposal

  • 1985

    The municipal assembly of Nottwil (Canton of Lucerne) approves the re-zoning of an industrial site, turning it into a special zone for clinical and therapeutic use

  • 1987

    Foundation stone and groundbreaking ceremony, and construction of the Swiss Paraplegic Centre (SPC) begins

  • 1988

    Topping-out ceremony

  • 1990

    Opening ceremony and commissioning of the specialist clinic

  • 1998

    Official opening of the extension buildings (third nursing wing) and startup of the Centre for Pain Medicine

  • 2000

    Guido A. Zäch resigns as chief physician

  • 2003

    Opening of extension buildings (connecting bridge, northwest wing)

  • 2005

    Guido A. Zäch resigns as director

  • 2006

    Swiss Prevention Center opens and first "Gesundheit" [health] public conference held

  • 2007

    Public-private partnership agreement with the Lucerne Cantonal Hospital (LUKS), and establishment of the Swiss Spine and Spinal Cord Centre (SWRZ)

  • 2008

    Radiologie Luzern Land AG (Ralula) founded

  • 2013

    Swiss Society of Paraplegia (SSoP) founded

  • 2015

    Groundbreaking ceremony for replacement and extension buildings

  • 2020

    Scheduled opening of replacement and extension buildings

Additional information

1975

Creation of the Swiss Paraplegic Foundation

Early 1970s: While working as a junior doctor at a rehabilitation clinic in Basel, Guido A. Zäch got a first-hand look at the desperate situation endured by people with spinal cord injuries. He began to seek out new ways to provide these patients with the care they needed. It was this drive that resulted in the creation of the Swiss Paraplegic Foundation (SPF).

Back then, people with spinal cord injuries were faced with an alarming lack of medical and treatment services, ignorance regarding their condition and a strong possibility that they would not survive. For insurance reasons, it took at least one year before a patient could return to their daily life. People in wheelchairs, living on the margin of society, were seen as welfare cases.

“My name is Zäch and I’m one too!”

Guido A. Zäch

A vision with a future

Authorities and those in high-up positions wanted to maintain the status quo. Dr. Zäch, therefore, decided to take matters into his own hands.

To use his own money to create a foundation for people with spinal cord injuries. A not-for-profit organisation that rested on the support of a benefactor’s association.

The concept was based on solidarity, or “a reward for personal contribution”.

Every paying member received an immediate support payment if they were involved in an accident that resulted in a spinal cord injury. In addition, funds were made available for loved ones who dedicated their lives to caring for those who were injured. A special pension plan, if you will, to help out in the future. Less than a year after the foundation’s creation, 50,000 names had already been recorded in its membership directory.

No money, no foundation!

To raise funds, the founders had to be both creative and committed:

  • Evening rounds with the slide projector at Samaritans and women’s associations
  • Selling planners, bath towels, silk scarves, calendars, watches and torches
  • Selling handmade teddy bears in wheelchairs
  • Selling envelopes with special stamps and first-day covers
  • Holding benefit events such as the advent concert, where visitors were kindly asked to contribute to the small collection at the front door

Fellow citizens also showed initiative: pupils sold their own home-made Christmas biscuits. Formula One drivers and Swiss “Schwingen” wrestlers organised ski races to benefit paraplegics and, and, and...

In less than 25 years, the Swiss Paraplegic Foundation became a household name that those in the healthcare industry – as well as the public – could trust. Since then, it has occupied a permanent place at the top of the list of Switzerland's best relief organisations. Today, the SPF is the second-largest foundation in Switzerland, with around 1.8 million members.

“Thanks to Guido A. Zäch and his successors promoting their vision for the comprehensive treatment and reintegration of people with spinal cord injuries, the Foundation has earned the highest respect, both in Switzerland and abroad.”

Dr. Markus Dürr, former President of the GDK (Swiss Cantonal Health Directors Conference)

Markus Dürr, alt Präsident GDK

Comprehensive support

The Foundation was committed to providing Swiss-wide support to all people living with spinal cord injuries – as well as corresponding institutions – during times of hardship. As a result, the Foundation received countless applications for financial aid for everything from assistive devices to the conversion of vehicles, apartments and offices. The SPF honoured these requests and much more:

it paid healthcare costs that were not covered by insurance, published academic literature, organised conferences, launched special projects for patients and held continuing education classes for doctors and medical staff.

 

End of the pioneering era

Just as it was thriving, the Foundation was rocked by a messy legal dispute. The conflict kept advocates of the SPF, the courts, solicitors as well as the media busy for a very long time, and officially put an end, after almost 33 years, to the pioneering era initiated by Guido A. Zäch. After the dispute, a new management team made plans to modernise the company. There was no doubt that there was need for a change. But too much was taken on too quickly, and all at the same time. The ambitious undertaking unravelled the tightly-knit structure of the Swiss Paraplegic Foundation (SPF), and ultimately failed. Once the plan was abandoned, a patient took over for the first time as the President of Board of Trustees. Little by little, he was able to restore peace and order, and get the SPF back on its feet.

 

“In Nottwil, highly-qualified and enthusiastic employees perform outstanding work day in and day out to help people with spinal cord injuries and other spinal injuries or diseases. I take my hat off to them!”

Konrad Graber, Council Member of the Canton of Lucerne

Foresight, courage and constant motion are the hallmarks of the SPF. The SPF has played a hugely important role in the national healthcare and not-for-profit sectors, as well as in the corporate landscape of Central Switzerland.

Milestones

  • 1975

    Swiss Paraplegic Foundation (SPF) founded

  • 1977

    "Paraplegie" magazine launched

  • 1978

    Establishment and first members' meeting of the Benefactors' Association

  • 1979

    Introduction of the support contribution for members of the Benefactors' Association

  • 1980

    Swiss Paraplegics Association founded

  • 1982

    Swiss Foundation for Electronic Aids (FST) founded

  • 1994

    Orthotec AG founded

  • 1998

    First "Rollivision" trade fair held

  • 1999

    Paramobil AG founded

  • 2002

    Guido A. Zäch resigns as president of the Benefactors' Association

  • 2003

    Swiss Institute of Emergency Medicine (SIRMED) founded

  • 2003

    ParaHelp Association founded (now ParaHelp AG)

  • 2003

    Groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Guido A. Zäch Institute (GZI)

  • 2005

    Official opening and startup of the Guido A. Zäch Institute (GZI)

  • 2007

    Guido A. Zäch resigns as president of the board of trustees

  • 2012

    Purchase of the Sempachersee Hotel (HSS)

  • 2013

    Establishment of AWONO AG to provide age-appropriate accommodation for wheelchair users in Nottwil

  • 2015

    Start of construction work on extension buildings for the SPC