Becoming Independent Again 

Brent Herman, spinal cord injury patient.April 2007, I retired from Tool and Die making at the age of 63. I was looking forward to my own business of renovating homes, but on January 31, 2008 I had a spinal aneurism caused by trauma. I underwent surgery where the neurologist spent around 8 hours cleaning clotted blood from my spine. When I awoke I remember being asked if I could move my legs and wiggle my toes, which I did. The next time I woke up, I could no longer wiggle my toes and I had no feeling from my waste down. After 13 MRI's and two trips to Iowa City for angiograms, my condition still remains a mystery and I remain a paraplegic. 

My wife Judy and I spent the next two months on the rehabilitation unit at Genesis West. My therapy consisted of physical therapy, occupational therapy, and recreational therapy. I had to relearn how to perform tasks that we take for granted, such as how to sit up and dress myself.

Right away, I learned I had to make a decision whether to be upset and wonder why such a thing could happen to me or I could simply look at it as another challenge in my life.

I simply had no choice, I had to overcome this new challenge.

The first day on the rehabilitation unit I was asked "What are your goals?"  I knew I needed to build my upper body strength so I could get around and become independent and self sufficient and I also want to be able to to drive. I wanted to do everything I possibly could to become independent again.

I worked with the physical therapist, occupational therapist, and a recreational therapist  five days a week for a minimum of three hours each day. Everyone focused on different tasks. Everything had a purpose. You don't realize how challenging it is to go from lying down to sitting or to simply roll over. I learned to trust my therapists and I knew that when I did well, we all were successful.

Everyday was something slightly different as I progressed. At first, I thought there was no way I would be able to perform the activities that they were asking my to do. I remember working on wheelchair to/from floor transfers.  Getting down to the floor was fairly easy, but getting back up was another story. Ah, but sometimes technique is more important than strength and I think that this is one of those places that trust came in. 

I really enjoyed learning advanced wheelchair skills in preparation for community mobility. The first thing I had to learn was to balance on just the two back wheels. Again trust was key. I had to trust that the occupational therapist would catch me if I lost my balance and keep me from going over back wards. They caught me many times!  Curbs and wheelchairs don't go to well together, so you have to learn to cope. A fond memory of mine is when I was propelling my wheelchair up and down the hallway to improve my strength and endurance and  I took off faster than I ever did before and I started to flip over back wards, those trusting hands were knowingly there to catch me before I fell.

The week before I went home, I went on a community outing with the recreational therapist and my wife. We went with a small group to a restaurant and I admit, I  felt a little uneasy. Now, Judy and I frequently go out into the community and I never think twice about going.

Prior to discharge, I had one more goal to accomplish-DRIVING. I participated in driver's training and completed the driver's evaluation with the occupational therapist utilizing hand controls since I could no longer utilize my legs. At first, driving with hand controls was a little different, but now I drive all the time. 

After two months in the hospital as much as Judy and I wanted to go home, it was pretty hard to leave all the people who had helped me so much. I owe them a lot. I had the absolute best rehabilitation anyone could ask for.

After discharge from the hospital, I participated in three more months of out patient rehabilitation three days a week. My out patient training included strength training, improving my sitting balance, and advanced wheelchair skills.

We just finished renovating a house to make it  accessible for me. We spent a lot of time at Lowe's, Home Depot, and Menard's. I love to watch people watch me and  I make sure that when they finely look at my eyes, that they see a smile.

If you experience a bump in the road of life, you could never go wrong with the people who helped me cope and retrain for the rest of my life. I just can't say enough about what they mean to me and my family.

- Story provided by the patient, Brent Herman.

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