Regaining Skills After Spinal Cord Injury

Genesis team helps Milan patient

Tim Ayers

Tim Ayers of Milan, IL regained the use of
his arms, hands and legs with the help of
the spinal cord injury treatment team at
Genesis. He was injured in an accident
nearly a year ago. Today, he enjoys being
able to return to one of his favorite
pastimes - repairing cars with his son, D.J.

Tim Ayers looks at his hands today and appreciates the coordination and intricate movement they require to pick up a pen, type on a computer, or grasp tools to do woodwork.

A sense of relief and joy comes every time he handles a wrench and repairs cars with his son.

A year ago, he lost those abilities to a spinal cord injury. He has regained them, but only after months of intensive occupational, physical, and recreational therapy through the Genesis Regional Rehabilitation Program.

Nearing the first anniversary of his injury, he is grateful for the strides he has made since the Oct. 13, 2010 accident that damaged his spinal cord and threatened the use of his arms and legs. On that day, he lost control of his car and hit a tree dead-on. He regrets he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. His head slammed against the windshield; the car’s airbag hit his lower abdomen and snapped him back.

A disc in his neck was shattered, causing significant trauma to his spinal cord. His prognosis was uncertain.

“After the accident, I can remember lying in the Emergency Room and hearing the doctors ask again and again, ‘Can you feel this?’ ‘Can you feel this?’ I kept saying ‘no’...’no’...’no’. I couldn’t move my arms or legs. It was very scary,” says Ayers, 53, of Milan, Ill.

Two days later, Genesis Health Group neurosurgeon Todd Ridenour, M.D., replaced Ayers’ shattered disc and fused three vertebrae in his neck.

“The first week was a blur...not knowing how bad the damage to the spinal cord really was and if I would be able to walk again,” Ayers says. “You get a whole new perspective on life when you have to learn to use your legs, arms and hands again.”

Genesis has provided comprehensive spinal cord injury services for 35 years, and four years ago, developed the Quad Cities’ only spinal cord injury treatment team.

In 2010, Genesis also became the only program in Iowa to earn CARF accreditations for inpatient and outpatient Spinal Cord System of Care. Genesis is one of only 80 accredited spinal cord programs throughout the nation.

Ayers spent a month on the Rehabilitation Unit at Genesis’ West Central Park campus in Davenport, where he received specialized spinal cord injury care.

With the help of his therapists and physiatrist Conway Chin, D.O., he set out to re-learn abilities he had possessed for more than 50 years.

“If you don’t give up and keep working during therapy, there is hope,” Ayers says.

“The doctors, nurses and therapists at Genesis know how to help. They take pride in their work and care about their patients.”

Because of the location of his injury, he regained the use of his legs more quickly than his arms and hands.

“At first, everything I did was from a wheelchair,” Ayers recalls. “During physical therapy, they would put a harness around my waist to hold me up, and I couldn’t stand on my own. My legs wanted to buckle. I had no strength. At that point, I wondered, ‘How much better am I actually going to get?’ “

He graduated from a wheelchair to a walker within several weeks. It took much more time, however, to get back the use of his arms and hands.

“The people at Genesis kept my spirits up through many days of occupational and physical therapy,” he says. “They did what they needed to do to get me better, but they also paid attention to what my own goals were. They wanted to help me get back to the life I’d had before.”

Hope and hard work

Tim Ayers and Dr. Chin

Genesis physiatrist Conway Chin,
D.O., checks on the progress of
spinal cord injury patient Tim Ayers.

“Tim was very motivated from Day One. He made great gains in a short amount of time, and I think it’s because of his positive attitude,” says Molly Muhl, Lead Occupational Therapist, who also coordinates the Spinal Cord Injury Support Group at Genesis. “He also had a very supportive family, which made a huge difference in his recovery.”

Ayers has a desk job, so using his hands to answer a phone, hold a pen and type on a computer were crucial to his work, she says.

Until he regained coordination in his hands, he was fitted with adaptive devices to help him pick up and hold what his hands could not. He used the computer with the help of voice recognition software.

His fine motor skills improved over the course of outpatient therapy at Genesis Medical Park, Maplecrest in Bettendorf. In February, another milestone: He began driving again.

“Before the accident, I did a lot of work with my hands at home, from plumbing to repairing cars,” Ayers says. “For me, an exciting step in my recovery was when I was able to work with nuts and bolts. I knew I would be able to repair cars with my son again.”

A recent MRI shows his spinal cord still has bruising and continues to heal. Yet there are few outward signs of Ayers’ spinal cord injury. Some may notice a little awkwardness in the way he picks up a pen and positions it in his hand, for example.

He continues to make gains, he says, and has the support of his family, friends and the professionals at Genesis to thank.

“Dr. Ridenour is the best. I was lucky to have him as my neurosurgeon,” he says. “Dr. Chin and the therapists at Genesis have kept my spirits and motivation up and have really worked to bring me back to as close to 100 percent as possible. Everyone throughout Genesis has been fantastic.”

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