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Recovering Step by Step

Posted on March 10, 2015

Life can change unexpectedly in an instant. Just ask Sam Owens, 58, of Miamisburg, OH.

In December of 2013, Owens’ car crashed into the back of a utility trailer near Clinton, TN. He and his wife were on their way home from a visit with family in Florida.

“Neither one of us remembers the accident, which is in itself a blessing,” Owens says. “We started spinning, and eventually ended up on the other side of the interstate.”

Sam (left) and Bonnie OwensWhile Bonnie miraculously walked away with only a few cuts and bruises, her husband was injured much more critically. He had a broken back, a dozen broken ribs, broken sternum, broken hip, his right lung collapsed, there was radial nerve damage to his right arm, and his right femur was destroyed.

There were other injures, but those were the worst. Owens required seven units of blood, and he spent five and a half weeks at UT Medical Center. On a respirator, he often communicated with Bonnie by tracing letters into her hand.

When Owens was finally released, he still had a long way to go before he could function on his own, so he was referred to Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center.

“I was pretty much immobile at that time,” Owens says. “I could not get up, I couldn’t even roll over in the bed.” He couldn’t put any weight on his right leg nor use his right arm, and he’d had to lie in a hospital bed for so long that his muscles had atrophied.

From the start, understanding that Owens was going to be there for an extended stay, PNRC staff offered to bring a bed into his room for Bonnie. “The staff at Pat Neal took care of her as well as me,” Owens says, “and I think that’s important because it definitely helped Bonnie deal with our situation.”

And the situation was still dire. Owens had both physical and mental hurdles to cross before he could go home.

“I was never afraid of anything that happened at the hospital or the rehab center,” Owens explains. “But whenever I would move or was being moved, I was overly cautious about being careful not to add to the injuries.”

His primary therapist, Christy Williams, says that’s a common concern for new patients at PNRC.

“In inpatient rehab, our number one priority with a multi-trauma patient is to transform this mentality on movement,” Williams says. “Once the fear of movement lessens, most patients are very eager to learn to move independently, and Sam was no different.”

Williams says Owens’ first transfer out of bed required the assistance of three people, one for each leg, and one for his upper body. After 30 minutes of slow readjustments and progression towards sitting on the edge of the bed, he was transferred into a wheelchair for the first time and was able to be wheeled down to the therapy gym.

“They got me into a harness device that lifted me out of the wheel chair, and actually had me walk down a little path with parallel bars,” Owens remembers, “just to get my body in an upright position and have my legs move in as close to normal manner as possible without any weight on them.”

These were just the first steps on a long road to recovery. Although recovery happened slowly, it did happen.

“I started noticing improvements pretty much from the very beginning,” says Owens.

After three weeks Williams told Owens he had finally reached the level most patients are at when they are first admitted. The physical therapists at PNRC were skilled, and Owens was determined.

“Though Sam was a very medically complicated patient, he was determined to return to his baseline level of mobility,” Williams says. “With this determination, great family support from his wife, Bonnie, and his willingness to overcome his fears and try new methods, he progressed smoothly from a level of total dependence, to a level high enough for him to be discharged.”

While Sam Owens was obviously a special case, his method of care was no different than what any patient could expect from PNRC. “We meet each person where they are; we consider each person’s daily medical status, their daily mood and motivation, and current physical limitations, and create a plan to promote functional mobility,” Williams says.

Each plan is modified daily and if necessary multiple times per day. However, the ultimate goal is always the same: progression towards safe and independent mobility.

“As the patient,” Owens says, “I was fully aware of what the progression plan was, and the goals I needed to reach each week to graduate to the next step.”

Those steps eventually led to Owens being discharged. Today he’s able to continue physical therapy near his home, and improved enough to make a return trip to Florida.

“Yesterday, I walked a little over half a mile on the beach without the use of a cane,” Owens says. “I see that as a pretty major milestone compared to where I was – it was awesome.”

Owens says his next goal is to walk without a limp. It’s a pretty safe bet he’ll be able to reach that goal, considering what he’s already accomplished.

During his six weeks at PNRC, Owens saw many patients admitted and discharged. Being something of senior resident after awhile, Owens was asked if he had any advice to share with the newer patients.

“You’ve just got to keep a positive attitude,” Owens told them. “Whatever the therapist asks you do to, do it if you can, because you have to take ownership of your health and rehabilitation.”

Owens says attitude is everything, “Not one single day throughout this whole process have I been depressed or down in the dumps,” he says. “I wake up every morning, and I smile when I open my eyes.”

Owens says he has nothing but “praise and thankfulness” for the staff at PNRC, and with each new day, he’s happier than ever just to be alive.

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