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Brennan’s Next Chapter:
Reclaiming Life After a Spinal Cord Injury

Brennan and Lisa Lazzaretto exchanging wedding vows in the Marianjoy Rose Garden

Brennan Lazzaretto, a teacher at Downers Grove South High School, was excited for the upcoming changes in his life as he and his fiancée, Lisa, bought a house and prepared for their wedding. However, they had no idea how much life was about to change.

At his new home, Brennan slipped off a ladder and fell eight feet, breaking his spine and neck in three places. Brennan was rushed to the hospital. The first thing he said to Lisa in the emergency room was, “I still want to marry you on our wedding date.” Smiling through the tears, she agreed, although she couldn’t imagine how this would be possible.

Fortunately for them both, Brennan’s doctors and family recommended he come to Marianjoy for his rehabilitation. Wearing a full-torso brace to stabilize his back and neck, he progressed through physical and occupational therapies. “I was determined to work hard to get back to my normal life,” says Brennan. “But as anyone who has gone through something like this knows, the mental game of rehabilitation can be two steps forward, one step back. You should try to improve, but remember to take one step at a time.”

In spite of occasional setbacks, it was that determination that helped Brennan to recover so quickly and so well. Vanessa Flaherty, Brennan’s physical therapist, says, “Brennan had such an optimistic outlook and persevering spirit that directly impacted his recovery. It was amazing to see how well he was moving around, considering all the trauma and pain he was experiencing.” Within just one week of physical therapy, Brennan was able to walk. “It was incredible; I couldn’t believe it,” he says. However, physical recovery is only one aspect of rehabilitation at Marianjoy, and Brennan’s care team wanted to make his other dream come true, too.

On August 1, Brennan and Lisa got married in a rose garden at Marianjoy. Lisa wore her bridal gown, and Brennan improvised with a clever tuxedo T-shirt he was able to wear over his brace. Brennan’s occupational therapist, Marissa Dastice, worked with Brennan on endurance and transfers in the rose garden to prepare him for the ceremony. Surrounded by friends, family, music, and Marianjoy staff, an officiant pronounced them husband and wife. “I couldn’t have asked for a better wedding; it was amazing to have it at the same place that brought me back to health. It marked a new chapter for me in two ways: as a married man, and as a recovering spinal cord injury patient. It really brought into focus how much I have to appreciate in life.”

Now, Brennan is back at home and has graduated from needing a brace. He is grateful to have lots of small projects around their new house to work on as he recuperates enough to return to work, which is his next big goal. He is also continuing to work on building muscle and stamina through physical therapy. “Lisa and Brennan were great about taking instruction on how to incorporate therapy and new strategies into his daily routine almost immediately,” says Flaherty. Dastice, too, says that Brennan wanted to focus his therapy with her on daily living goals, such as cooking, doing laundry, and chair transfers for both home and work. “He was highly motivated to return to functioning independently in his everyday life,” she says.

In reflecting on how far he has come, Brennan says, “I’m still taking steps, literally and figuratively, to reclaim my life,” he says. “For anyone in recovery, it’s important to face your reality so you can move forward. Remind yourself that today is better than yesterday. My accident has impacted my life drastically, but it’s given me an appreciation for how very much I have. I am blessed.”