On a quiet evening of Aug 3, 2015, Cheryl made her drive home from work as she had done countless times without a second thought. She enjoyed working as a client service associate for a corporate retirement planning firm on the Plaza, but what she enjoyed even more was the thought of getting home to spend time with her loving husband, Johnny. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case on this particular commute. Less than a mere mile from her home she was the victim of a horrific accident as a result of someone recklessly running a red light and “t-boning” her vehicle. Cheryl was rushed to Overland Park Regional Trauma Center where she spent eight haze-filled days only to learn she had sustained vertebral fractures and a spinal cord injury of her lower cervical spine.
Once Cheryl was transferred to the rehabilitation unit at Menorah Medical Center, the haze had finally cleared, reality had set in, and the fear of the unknown was present. She was paralyzed from the neck down. Fortunately for her, her spinal cord injury was incomplete, meaning there was potential for recovery but how much was unclear. When the spinal cord sustains extensive trauma, it can go into “spinal shock” leaving the body completely paralyzed from the area of damage. “It was the scariest thing I had ever experienced in my life”, says Cheryl. She spent six weeks at Menorah re-learning once novice tasks that had become incredibly difficulty such as rolling over in bed and sitting up without anything to support her. “I tried not to focus on the long-term results, but rather focus on getting better one day at a time”, states Cheryl as the movement in her limbs slowly returned.
Cheryl came to Rehabilitation Institute of Kansas City (RIKC) on September 28 with a determined mindset and motivated to defy the odds against her, given the severity of her injury. Many important steps had been achieved prior to her admission to RIKC, but one glaring goal weighed heavy on her mind: to walk by herself again. Cheryl tells us, “Above all else, I want to walk again and return to my normal life. My recovery won’t be complete until that happens”. Cheryl’s level of mobility at the time of her initial evaluation at RIKC consisted of someone helping her to stand and take small steps in the parallel bars. After a detailed evaluation and careful deliberation between the physical therapy and occupational therapy staff, a focused plan of care was prescribed with her goals in mind.
Throughout her time at RIKC, Cheryl has been working hard on standing balance activities, an extensive strengthening program to improve the performance of the muscles weakened after her accident, and a stretching program to combat the intense spasticity that many individuals with spinal cord injury deal with after sustaining damage. The bulk of her therapy is functionally-based, aimed to improve her abilities to return to a normal home life. She participates in stair training, standing and walking endurance on a variety of surfaces, and grasping objects and grip strength to perform tasks such as opening doors. Despite the hardship she has endured, she brings a positive attitude with her to RIKC every day.
Her progress during her time at RIKC has been nothing short of amazing. She now walks on her own with her walker throughout RIKC and at home. She loves the feeling of being able to get around on her own again at home and walking out to her deck to enjoy warm drinks on cold evenings. You will often spot her in the gym standing with other patients as she makes them smile with stories of her children and grandchildren or giving them tips on retirement planning. She plans to return to her job in early 2016 and is looking forward to attending her grandkid’s sporting events and theatrical plays in the spring.
Cheryl has been an inspiration to her family, other patients she comes in contact with at RIKC, and many staff members that have had the pleasure of working with her and watching her determined recovery at RIKC.
Story by Nathan Marchese, SPT