Walking Again: Giving Back

Organization: Service: Story Topics:
Rehabilitation & Physical Therapy

In 2000, Richard had been working non-stop, was raising five kids with his girlfriend and was in the middle of getting his MBA from USC. He decided to take a break and go with friends to King’s River, near Fresno, for a much awaited water skiing trip with friends. That trip forever changed his life, when what he thought was a simple dive in the river, resulted in Richard fracturing his spinal cord.

Richard was rushed to an area hospital to be stabilized, but he was in critical condition. At the time of his admittance, he went into cardiac arrest several times, had a ventilator and a pacemaker and worst of all no sensation in his arms or legs and was deemed a quadriplegic. At first it was unknown if Richard would even make it through the night.

“I had a very traumatic injury,” says Richard. “But I was determined to make it. I still had so much I wanted to achieve in life. And I needed to get back to my family and friends in the LA area.”

Richard’s close friend, a local chiropractor, did tons of research to find the best rehabilitation care for Richard, who was determined to get back on his feet again. They decided that MemorialCare Rehabilitation Institute at Long Beach Memorial would be the best bet and under the special care of a leading physician in spinal cord injury, Ann Vasile, M.D., medical director, Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program, Long Beach Memorial.

Richard was transported to Long Beach Memorial. He had a little set back during transport, when he became overheated on the long transport to Los Angeles. Quadriplegics temperature regulation does not function properly, so he wasn’t able to cool down. Once he was under the care of Dr. Vasile she identified this setback right away and moved him into the intensive care unit at Long Beach Memorial. While in the intensive care unit the Long Beach Memorial care team worked hard to get him off of his ventilator, remove his tracheostomy and get him to swallow once again. However, he still was at 98 percent paralysis.

Within a week, Richard’s condition improved enough that he could move from intensive care into inpatient rehabilitation. That’s where Richard’s healing really began. Dr. Vasile recognized that Richard was having a bad reaction to the pain medication he was on initially and was able to get him emotionally and mentally sound again by stabilizing his medications. Then she and the rehab team worked hard to get Richard to regain his physical strength by improving his mobility and range of motion.

“I just decided that I could go two ways with this,” says Richard. “I could be angry and frustrated or be optimistic and make the best of what was happening to me. I chose the second and I was bound and determined to walk again some day. Luckily, I had a great support system at Long Beach Memorial, along with therapists that pushed me and encouraged me to do one more rep when I didn’t think I had anything left. And a loving and supportive family that encouraged me at home.”

At first, Richard would just practice sitting up in bed and moving in and out of his wheelchair. But the therapists and doctors encouraged him to press on. Being a Redondo Beach resident, growing up surfing and around water all his life, Richard was intrigued and motivated to participate in water therapy. His therapist, Eric, spent hours with him in the pool and would often stay in there longer than Richard’s scheduled therapy if needed.

MemorialCare Rehabilitation at Long Beach Memorial offers a full-size indoor pool, set at a comfortable temperature, which is available for daily therapy. Water therapy can help improve functions such as moving, reaching and breathing. It also relaxes muscles and makes movement easier, which may not be found with land-based intervention. Also, the fear of falling down is removed and the warm water reduces body weight reducing the chances of overexertion. Pool therapy is an important part of the patient’s complete therapy program.

One day in the pool, Richard realized he could wiggle a toe and then later he could move a finger. After two months in the hospital, he was starting to get his mobility back. Richard continued his care after he was discharged through outpatient rehab.

“The entire care team challenged me to the nth degree,” says Richard. “Whether it was wheelchair races, mat exercises or balance maneuvers I was constantly being pushed. I’ve been determined my whole life to succeed and I wasn’t going to fail in my recovery. I was going to take my life back.”

Today although he can’t walk for long distances, Richard can walk again with the help of a cane. He can move his upper body and can drive a car with hand controls. He is still challenged with the normal deficits of being a quadriplegic, such as a paralyzed bladder and will stay on medication for the rest of his life. But overall, he has improved and is able to be independent and live alone.

“Richard gained a ton of strength back considering his injuries,” says Dr. Vasile. “Our goal is to get him to where he can regain as much independence as possible. The rehab and outpatient team feel really proud of what we did to help get Richard back on his feet again. But we are also overwhelmingly impressed with Richard for believing and wanting to take that first step again.”