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Category Archives: Spinal Cord Injury
Every day I work with individuals whose lives have been drastically changed by paralysis. My job is twofold: first, to provide innovative therapies to help promote recovery and, second, to inspire and motivate my patients to push through the difficult times–sometimes as the encouraging cheerleader, and other times the demanding coach.
In my job, I’ve come to realize that we’re each gifted with a unique set of skills and abilities that allow us to contribute to the world around us. If we’re lucky, perhaps we can even use those talents to inspire and motivate others. But when I started my career in the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at Kennedy Krieger Institute, hoping to make a difference in the lives of my patients, I never expected that my patients would be the ones who constantly inspire and motivate me.
Brian Keefer is a patient whose strength, determination and genuine love for life inspire me in ways that are hard to put into words. In 2008, Brian was paralyzed from the neck down after a gymnastics flip gone awry. Soon after his injury, Brian and his family began making the 140-mile trip from to Kennedy Krieger every day for two weeks during his school breaks. Here, during bouts of intensive therapy, Brian spends five to six hours daily working with our team, all while maintaining a smile and exerting 100-percent effort.
Working on the inpatient unit of the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at Kennedy Krieger Institute, I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many incredible patients and families. I am often the first therapist the family has met since their child (or young adult) was first diagnosed with a spinal cord injury. In this role, I get the opportunity to help turn a challenging and traumatic situation into one of hope and recovery. It’s a privilege to work with these families during this emotional time of transition.
This past May, I met the Jermano family, to whom I would like to dedicate this blog. Their quest to create a fulfilling life for their daughter Mia, along with their continuous hope for her recovery, is truly an inspiration to my work.
It’s a classic backyard image: a kid flying through the air on a swing set.
Aside from the occasional bumps and bruises, it’s also not something that seems especially fraught with danger. And in truth, although swing sets and playgrounds are often cited for safety concerns, serious injuries remain relatively rare.
Rarity, however, seems to make tragic accidents an even tougher pill to swallow.
It started with Mikaela Deenen innocently swinging in the backyard. But, unbeknownst to her or her family, torrential rains here in Maryland had caused the swing set to come loose from the ground. When it toppled over, the swing set landed on top of Mikaela, crushing her spine. Continue reading
If I had a magic wand, I would use it to prevent the illnesses and accidents that lead children and young adults to the inpatient rehabilitation unit at Kennedy Krieger. I would stop cars from crashing. I would stop cancer cells and tumors from growing. I would stop diseases that cause paralysis.
Unfortunately, my medical degree didn’t come with the additional title of Fairy Godmother. If it did, I could have used my magic wand on October 19, 2008. On that day, I would have stopped Matthew Silverman, a vibrant young teenager who loved music and fishing in his home state of South Carolina, from becoming ill. Continue reading
Working as an outpatient physical therapist at Kennedy Krieger’s International Center for Spinal Cord Injury (ICSCI), I’ve had the privilege of getting to know many individuals who motivate and inspire me on a daily basis. I often try to put myself in their shoes, wondering how I would cope with a catastrophic injury such as paralysis. Although I have a hard time answering that question myself, I have encountered an individual whose strength of character sets an example of how I can only hope I would endure such a situation. That individual is 22-year-old Peter Exner.
A motor vehicle accident in December of 2009 caused spinal fractures in the thoracic and lumbar portions of Peter’s spinal column, resulting in damage to his spinal cord. This injury left him paralyzed from the waist down. In additional to the spinal cord injury, he also had other life-threatening and painful injuries such as internal bleeding, rib fractures, collapsed lungs, and both arms broken. After surgeries to stabilize his spine and arm fractures, he began the grueling process of rehabilitation.
Peter would be considered a complex case by any therapist. But he never let his numerous injuries slow him down in his recovery. Even at the beginning—before his admission to Kennedy Krieger—when he was placed in a nursing home at the age of 20, his determination never faltered. Meanwhile, even when he experienced significant and debilitating pain as a result of the nerve damage, he continued to participate in intensive physical and occupational therapy as an inpatient at the ICSCI. Continue reading
Last Monday was a big day in the life of one of my patients: He graduated from the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) with a degree in political science. His parents and siblings were there to applaud as he accepted his diploma and turned his tassel. It was an experience that thousands of college students will have this month, but for Matt Courson, this already special day was momentous.
Before a crowd of thousands, Matt lifted himself from his wheelchair and traveled across the stage on his own two feet with the help of a walker and leg braces. It wasn’t the first time he had walked since a spinal cord injury left him paralyzed from the chest down (our team in the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury has been working hard on this with Matt in therapy), but it marked the realization of a goal that others had told Matt would never happen. Continue reading
In April, the Bennett Blazers, Kennedy Krieger’s wheelchair basketball team, and I travelled all the way to Denver, Colorado for four days to compete in the 2011 National Wheelchair Basketball Association’s (NWBA) National Championships. We felt prepared—we’d been a strong team all year with a solid defense that anticipated each other’s moves. We were also the only team that had brought just six players to the tournament, which left us with only one substitute—a fact other teams seemed to be more concerned about than my players. They were ready to play the whole game no matter what, and they did.
I had complete faith in the team and their abilities, but I couldn’t have predicted their dedication, composure and confidence throughout some of the hardest minutes of basketball they had ever played. It was a nail-biter all the way to the end. Here’s a play-by-play:
It was almost three years ago when I met Noah Hanssen for the first time; his mother wheeled him into our therapy gym and I introduced myself as his new physical therapist. I wanted him to feel comfortable and safe – after all, new people and places can be intimidating for an 8-year-old, especially one in need of intensive therapy. And I’ve learned over the years when working with kids, sometimes we need a bit of a “warm-up” period before they show me their true personality.
But not Noah. Instantly I could tell that he is bright, adventurous, and active. His smile won me over in seconds, as he asked his most important question during our evaluation: “Can I play with that Nerf gun over there?”
Noah and I became a team over the next few months. Always fearless and unquestioning, he was motivated to try anything I asked of him, just so long as it was fun. He challenged me to get creative and cleverly disguise his therapy as rambunctious activities that any boy his age would love. Continue reading
Though I’ve only known Donnell Jones for a few months now, he’s the kind of person you need only know for a few minutes before his charisma draws you in.
Donnell was injured in 1996, during a game of pick-up football. In one instant, a hard hit and a broken neck left him paralyzed and unable to stand or walk. He has limited use of his arms and hands, but he can sit up on his own, and we have been working hard in intensive therapy sessions to help him regain more function.
There are many reasons why I am so glad to be part of the inpatient rehabilitation team at Kennedy Krieger. Driving more than an hour each way to and from work is not one of them! However, the determination, courage, bravery, and perseverance of my patients and their families tops the list most days. Morgan Dunnigan and her family are perfect examples of this positive spirit and how, despite tragic personal loss, it’s possible to overcome and return to the happy parts of life that you knew before.