Client Name: Keith S.
Hometown: Mahopac, NY
Start Date: 4/10/17
Keith was always the most sporty of his group of friends. He was an avid motorcyclist, belonging to a self-styled “biker gang” with at least a hundred members. “We didn’t ride Harleys. These were sport bikes. Our name was hokey though. We called ourselves ‘the Legion of Doom.’”
Keith’s motorcycle had six gears and was modified for speed. “My bike could go faster than a Ferrari.”
After completing high school, Keith went immediately to work, taking a job at a construction company specializing in home renovations and mold removal. His job would take him as far as Connecticut. The work was physically demanding: some days he would do bathroom demolitions; other days he would rip out insulation in old attics. The job paid well.
Shortly after, at age 20, Keith was riding his motorbike at high speed and got involved in a head-on collision with a car. He broke both wrists, destroyed three ribs and punctured a lung. He needed a trach to breathe and swallow. His long-term memory is fine, but a traumatic brain injury means his short term memory isn’t great. “For example, I don’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning,” he admitted.
With a T4 thoracic cord injury, he has mobility above the rib cage but not below. Sensation in the lower extremities is limited or non-existent, but, he said, “I do feel my butt and the back of my thighs. And my left foot.”
After the motorcycle accident, three weeks passed before he began physical therapy. Because of his fragile state, the hospital assigned him some “easier rehab,” he said. It was at rehab during his outpatient treatment that a fellow patient told him about Push to Walk. Keith remembers the first visit, and the excitement of having his desires understood – he wanted more than just to survive, he wanted to recover and thrive.
“Push to Walk is a place where their goals are the same as yours,” he said. “The trainers are down to earth. They connect with you. They remember things about you. The next time they see you, they’ll say, ‘Did you go to that party? How was it?’” When you’re in a good mood, you can do so much more.” He now splits his time between Push to Walk and the hospital outpatient service, and completes four days a week combined.
Push to Walk has a “Total Gym,” which allows him to do squats, exercise his glutes and stomach muscles. A vibration device stimulates the spinal cord, triggering muscles to move and prevent atrophy. He also practices sit ups, does back extensions, and practices walking with leg braces. “I can shoot my leg forward from my hip,” he says, indicating a swinging motion with his arm. With a walker and assistance from the trainers, he practices walking on the Push to Walk walking track.
Keith is hopeful about restoring his ability to walk. “I met an older guy who was injured 15 years ago. He said to me that the medical breakthroughs are happening now.” His eyes went down to his cell phone, clutched in his right hand. “I’m getting really good at checking my email. I’m communicating with a researcher who’s conducting clinical trials on an epidural stimulator. After two to three weeks with the device implanted on their spine, they’re finding that people can walk on their own.” Keith is thinking of ways to fundraise because the trial is taking place in Bangkok, Thailand, and the trip would be costly.
His sister, seven years older, is a big support, as are his parents, with whom he lives. Asked whether he has a chance to return to the labor force, Keith says he “can’t see himself sitting at a desk. My job right now is to continue to progress and get back on my feet.”
Being able to stand removes the need for “transferring,” where a wooden board is slid underneath and a person is transferred from the wheelchair to the bed, or even the toilet.
Compared to the early days of recovery just after his accident, when he was too weak to walk or support himself in a chair, Keith now has more muscle mass in his arms and can sit up unassisted. The ultimate goal is to regain use of his legs – to stand, and even walk – with the help of the latest medical breakthrough. He imagines that day in his mind, adding, “I would come back to Push to Walk. We could work on so much more. We could work faster.”