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Taking One Day at a Time:
Matt's Recovery from a Spinal Cord Injury

In Matt Finan’s room at Marianjoy, an oversized balloon in the shape of the number six dances proudly in the corner. It’s a reminder of the celebration that took place when for the first time since his accident, Matt stood and took six steps.

On June 12, 2012, while perched on a ladder and cleaning the gutters on the second story of his home, Matt fell backwards, hitting his head and injuring his spine and shoulder as he hit the ground below.

He was transported to a high-level trauma center and was placed in intensive care. He would undergo surgery to fuse the injured vertebrae in his spine and to repair the damage done to his right shoulder. It would be several days before Matt would regain consciousness and realize he was unable to move his legs.

His wife, Jill, was told by the surgeons that based on his injuries and the surgeries they performed, his prognosis would be very good—but would require a long rehabilitation process. Jill immediately began looking for a rehabilitation facility.

“Jill and my family made the decision to come to Marianjoy,” Matt explained. “They kept reassuring me that it was the best place to go. But I didn’t really know what to expect and was scared. Jill kept telling me that it was going to be okay.”

Having suffered a mild brain injury, Matt’s first several weeks at Marianjoy are still a bit foggy. Though he could move his upper extremities, his movement was limited due to his shoulder surgery. He was also placed in a thoracolumbar sacral orthosis (TLSO), a hard plastic brace that covered his trunk, limiting the movement of his spine as it continued to heal. He still had no movement from the waist down. “My therapists kept telling me that the process was going to be slow but that even a little bit of progress was good. When they asked me to perform a certain exercise using my legs, I couldn’t get them to move. But the therapists assured me that they could see my muscles were firing, meaning they were trying to move, which was a very positive sign.”

Because of the injury to his head, a speech therapist helped Matt to work on cognitive issues while his occupational and physical therapists worked on helping him regain his strength and relearning everyday tasks including dressing himself, toileting, and walking.

“My occupational therapist was very direct but encouraging and I really appreciated that,” he notes. “She taught me how to do things to help me become independent again. She gave me suggestions and techniques to adapt to situations that I was going to face once I returned home.”

Matt’s physical therapists focused on building the strength in his lower extremities to help him eventually stand and take his first steps with the use of a walker. “Sometimes I thought that the progress was very slow. When you’re living it every day, you don’t always see that the little things are a big step,” Matt explains. “I was slowly getting sensation back in my legs and every day my therapists were telling me they could see the progress. When they stood me up for the first time, I wasn’t sure I was ready. But they were encouraging and convinced me to try. And that’s how it is here. When I would start to have doubts, Jill, my doctor and my therapists encouraged me and made me believe I was going to get better. What I liked was that each of the therapists had a different perspective and technique. If one technique didn’t work for you, they’d find an alternative to help you reach the same goal. I was very impressed with all of them.”

After 10 weeks of inpatient therapy, Matt was discharged in September 2012. He will continue therapy near his home at Marianjoy’s Outpatient Therapy Program in Oakbrook Terrace. Though he will go home with a wheelchair, Matt will be able to climb the 16 steps leading to the second floor of his home with Jill’s assistance and the use of a cane.

Matt has nothing but praise for the staff at Marianjoy. “I noticed immediately that if you take away all the degrees and certifications, you will be left with genuinely kind and caring individuals. You see it in their interactions with their patients as well as with each other. They work well together and help each other out. There is a sense that people are hired here based on their character as much as their qualifications. You don’t run into anyone who has a bad attitude.”

“I am really looking forward to going home and though I know I’m continuing to get better, I have a lot more work to do,” he confirmed. “My goal is to eventually walk without any assistance and I believe this will happen.”