Eternal Sunshine of the Jockular Mind
Recovery takes place over a course of many different phases and, at the time of this writing, the process has not stopped, nor do I think it will ever stop. At least not until there is a cure.The first phase, of course, takes place in the hospital and involves traditional physical and occupational therapy, psychological therapy and in my case, voice therapy. It is critical to get as much in hospital therapy as possible; push yourself to go to all of the scheduled sessions and prompt the therapists for additional time in training. All of this therapy is expensive and usually covered by insurance while you are in the hospital. The objective of this therapy is to gain movement, skills, strength and balance, as well as confidence. It is my recommendation to work as hard as you can during this critical phase, in spite of the weakness and tendency to let others do for you.
Outside of traditional therapy, my team identified other options and “outside of the box” methods that were being practiced in various cultural environments. Betsy got in touch with a Shaman in Argentina, obtained a US Visa for him and brought him up to Miami while I was still in the hospital. Alberto would arrive in the hospital room every morning at 5:30 AM and work with me for two hours before the medical staff started making their rounds. Betsy would post a note on the door stating, “Do Not Disturb – In Prayer Session”. Alberto carried a meteor stone and did a lot of manipulation with my then paralyzed and motionless hands, trunk and legs.
Additionally, I'd given the Miami Project Research group permission to follow my progress, and they came by and connected me up with wires and monitors to detect active neuron pathways. Their first visit had shown no connections. But this time was different. As Alberto quietly sat off to the side, the group suddenly saw something on the screen indicating there was connection to my right big toe. This became a turning point for the non-believers. Other non-traditional therapies that Betsy and I signed up for were acupuncture, vitamin and supplements, reiki healing, massage, voice training, chiropractic and water work therapy, along with several others.
Back in Action
Sports eventually drew me back into competition. I avoided thinking about participating in sports until I began out-patient therapy at the La Jolla VA Hospital. The additional programs that the VA offered were so numerous and fun that I had a hard time deciding what I actually had time to do. Betsy and I participated in four adaptive ski trips and one “summer games” where I competed in swimming events, skeet shooting, archery and relay races. These were some things I had never done before the accident. After three years post injury I received tennis racket from my children and Betsy and was told to get back on the courts. Tennis had always been my passion before and it is again today. San Diego has a dynamic wheelchair tennis league that is active in the in the USTA sanctioned tournament and host to the U.S. Open in October. Next I would take up hand cycling with the San Diego Recreation Parks program. I am planning a bicycling trip to France this summer and will ship my hand cycling recumbent bike over to ride with my fellow travelers who have to rent bikes locally.
All of these therapies have value, but there is little question that the most effective work is done on the floor of the gym. I was directed toward that method when Betsy and her cousin Scott Crosby interviewed private sports trainers and chose Ted and Tammy Dardzinski to work with me, not as a quadriplegic but as an injured athlete. The difference in attitude and treatment was notable and made a difference. It was through the combined discoveries of this new team that Project Walk began.
Today Project Walk (www.projectwalk.org), located in Carlsbad in San Diego County, offers spinal cord injured clients a place and method where they can get back function and spirit. The miracle, the brochure says, is in the method. It is an intensive workout program for injured athletes who have a goal of full recovery. We say athletes because suddenly physical training becomes one’s new sport. The method is using a combination of visualization, movement, stretch reflex and closed chain exercises that work to strengthen one’s muscles, balance, core strength and recall of the nervous system. Daily, new things are tried and incorporated into this program as more and more is learned about spinal cord injury and the search for function. It is the belief that one must keep your body strong and taunt avoiding atrophy in order to remain in the race. This is where I got my legs back and realized that any return of function gave life back and was worth fighting for. I continue to workout at Project Walk because I keep improving and love working with the newcomers who are just beginning their own journey...
The Pool and Beyond
Before I reached my one year anniversary of recovery, my strong supporter, Mike Smith learned about a fundraiser held annually at USC called “Swim With Mike.” The program raises scholarship funds for disabled students, and was started by Mike Nyeholt, a USC Olympic Swimmer who was injured in a motorcycle accident. On the first occasion they raised so much money that Mike decided to give it back to USC for physically challenged athletes. The event is held annually and now a Mike Thomas Challenge is raising more than $100,000 with the support of my Beta fraternity brothers and Betsy’s Delta Gamma sorority sisters from USC along with more donations from our friends and family. This cause supports my belief that education and career training is critical for any challenged soul mate. See: www.swimwithmike.org for details.
Currently, I am involved at UCLA, in an exploratory method to improve walking. The method of over ground/weight adjusted/manually manipulated ambulation over a treadmill is the work of Dr. Susan Harkama. The program is four days a week for one to two hours of intense repeated walking patterns on a treadmill for a period of six weeks. Visible improvement of balance and gait make the efforts involved very worthwhile. More importantantly the research will soon give additional hope to “complete” injuries as this method relies on muscle memory to regain full function. Since the writing of this Dr. Harkama has moved this research to Louisville KY.
During all of this recent activity, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Foundation has followed me from UCLA to Project Walk and out to one of my tennis games while filming a documentary for their web site that shows the various things that SCI people are doing to make their lives better and to increase function. Sam Maddox from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center gave us a copy of the Paralysis Resource Guide. It's a terrific book, and you can get one by simply calling:
1 800 539 7309
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
You can visit the site at: www.paralysis.org
Recovery and the path to recovery have many faces and techniques and methods. They are all valid and when combined, they add to the whole. It is Betsy's and my resolve that the most important thing for us to do now is to give back to those who were injured after me.