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Bursting with gratitude
Therapy for spinal cord injury pays off for grateful woman

 More than three weeks after being severely injured in a motorcycle accident, Spotsylvania County resident Laura Hutchison came home.
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Date published: 7/11/2010

ON MY 40TH birthday, June 26, my best friend, Molly, took me shopping for a cane. It was the best birthday present I could've imagined, on a day I almost didn't live to see.

On May 23, I crashed the motorcycle I was riding. I hit a guardrail and flipped about 40 feet down an embankment, striking a tree with my right side.

After surgeons used two metal rods and 10 screws to fuse my spine, and removed bone fragments from my spinal cord, they didn't know if I would ever walk again. I was a paraplegic, paralyzed from the waist down.

In the ICU, I announced my goal of taking a couple of steps by my birthday. My friends responded with sad looks, but no one told me I couldn't do it. And here I was, a month later, working on graduating from using a walker to a cane.

When I last shared my journey, I'd taken a few steps on my first day in inpatient rehabilitation at the VCU Medical Center. Doctors had estimated my stay would be four to six weeks--after 12 days in the hospital recovering from the surgery and my other injuries.

But the therapists and I worked hard, and I was discharged from the inpatient center only two weeks after my admission.


Each day at VCU included six hours of programming. My day started with learning to get dressed while lying in bed. My spinal cord injury requires me to wear a thoracic lumbar sacral orthotic (TLSO) brace, a plastic device that goes from my armpits to my tailbone. Any position other than on my back in bed, and I have to wear it.

The therapists pushed me, but never asked me to do something I wasn't able to do. When my physical therapist Meghan took me into the steep hospital stairwell, I thought she was crazy. But man, did I feel good when I climbed that second flight. Each day, I felt more ready to leave the hospital and start getting back to whatever "normal" was going to be for me now.

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VCU's Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program helps those with injuries like mine--and much worse than mine--go home and function as independently as possible. Physical therapists help with mobility, strength, balance and endurance. Occupational therapists teach patients to dress, bathe, groom and feed themselves.

The program also provides counseling and education about spinal cord injury-specific issues for all patients, and other therapies for those who need them. It's nationally recognized for both its treatment and its research. To learn more about the program, visit sci.pmr.vcu.edu.

-Laura Hutchison