Overcoming the Unexpected through Physical Therapy

 

Since you were little you were taught to look both ways before you crossed the street. After looking both ways and beginning to cross the street, a truck seemingly came from nowhere. In the next instant, he was laying in the road wondering if he would ever be able to walk again. He had endured an accident only a few months prior, that left him paralyzed from the neck down.  He had been in the process of recovering before being hit again. James Georgitis went through what many could never even imagine. Not to mention, twice.

His first accident was in Dillon Dam, Colorado. He was walking along a trail when someone riding a bicycle crashed into him causing him to fly through the air. He never saw the biker, it was a hit and run. He was left alone in the woods, paralyzed from the neck down. Someone eventually found him and he was brought to the hospital. He spent a long time undergoing surgery and rehabilitation. After many years of physical therapy, and despite the major setback of the second accident during his recovery, he was able to gain back many functions he lost. However, his life is completely different.

Lucy Macomber, now a image-1senior at Thornton Academy on the varsity cross-country team went through a similar struggle. After tearing her meniscus a couple of days before the start of the season her freshman year, she thought she might never be able to join the team and run. She was one of the most promising new runners coming to the team and then found herself unable to even continue. “The hard part was watching my teammates workout and race and break personal records while I was confined to cheering from the sidelines. It was impossible to feel like part of the team when I missed practice almost every day for physical therapy. Not running was just as painful as the injury itself.” she said. She too had to dedicate so many hours a week doing physical therapy to accommodate her situation.

Everyone goes through adversity and endures some kind of injury or setback throughout their lives. An estimated 50% of Americans over the age of 18 develop a musculoskeletal injury that lasts over three months according to Strive Labs. And an even higher percentage develops less serious injuries that still impact daily life and benefit from physical therapy. That’s over 100 million people in the United States. However, only nine million of those people utilize physical therapy services. People who suffer from things won’t always try their hardest when results or change isn’t shown immediately. Overcoming struggles whether big or small require dedication and focus to get better.

After incidents happen, such as the story of Georgitis, your life is completely changed. They have to learn how to do things again, how to live life and function after what has happened. Georgitis was a cardiovascular surgeon and now could no longer do very basic tasks such as walking or brushing his teeth. “It would take me thirty minutes initially, to even pick up a toothbrush. Let alone how would you put the paste on the toothbrush. You have very little function of your hands so what do you do? How do you do that? … Now you have to learn to do things with your non-dominate hand. Learning to write, brushing your teeth, getting yourself dressed. All of those things are now an incredible struggle” he said.

Dedicating days and weeks on recovering in physical therapy, priorities and focus change. One will always have to consider their situation and adapt it to aspects of life. “Now your priorities are focused on how to do deal with the situation and what you have to do to get better. What you need to do is a tremendous amount of work. I played football, soccer, lacrosse, track, basketball, all of which require a dedication to learn the sport and to stay fit to do it. That is like looking at a single drop of water compared to the Atlantic Ocean as far as a comparison between doing sports and recovering from the accident,” he said.

According to Strive Labs, going through this and accepting that kind of change is hard for a lot of patients. Only 30% of patients are fully adherent with their plan of care.

The behaviors patients adopt outside physical therapy have a huge influence on their rate of improvement. No matter how much the physical therapy might help a patient, the ideas and activities they adopt outside of therapy will affect their recovery the most. Georgitis said: “I became very analytical in my thought processes. My thoughts were focused on how to structure my life and relationships with other people depending on my degree of recovery and I considered what the financial implications would be for losing my job…

“It leads to really difficult decisions about what was good for me and the people around me.”

After persevering through it all and slowly gaining back abilities to do certain things, Georgitis used his previous medical knowledge and experience to go back to his roots and teach. After his accidents he was asked by the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine to consider teaching some classes there. He originally went to college to teach before he studied medicine, so combining his two passions he found a way to overcome and adapt to his situation.

Macomber adapted to her situation as well. After having surgery, she persisted through physical and massage therapy. She not only recovered, but learned not to take her abilities and health for granted. She said, “This was my first injury that needed more than ice and ibuprofen to heal. I could no longer blow off warm ups and cool downs, and always had to stretch. I knew that neglecting any of these would put me at a higher risk of injury again and I might not be able to recover as well.”

He will never be completely the same, but has gained back a lot of things he lost. Now 70 years old, he manages to run a farm, teach, and do many other activities he thought at one point he would never be able to do again. He plays the flute to help reestablish and improve coordination in his hands and fingers. He said, “after the accident when I was finally able to get out of a wheelchair I promised myself I would do something to improve my coordination because if not I would’ve lost all the things I love doing.”

Despite setbacks and everything they went through, they still managed to overcome their adversity through a dedication to physical therapy. Both lives will forever be changed, but from their setbacks they gained so much.

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