Thursday, April 25, 2013 • Washington, DC 20036-5103

 

I have had the pleasure of working with many incredible people over the past 13 years as a personal trainer.  All of my clients have had something about them that was memorable to me.  For some of them, it was what they did for a living, for others it was where they came from, or how they got to be where they were.  I love to hear about peoples' lives and the experiences they have had.  

 

One of my clients, Dan, happens to one person that sticks out among the crowd because of what he has been through.  His story amazes and inspires me.  I would like to share Dan's story with you today in the hopes that it will do the same for you.

 

In 1998, Dan was in a severe car accident at the age of 50.  While waiting to make a left hand turn, his car was hit on the driver's side by another driver who was not paying attention.  Dan and his daughter (who was in the passenger seat) had multiple injuries.  His daughter luckily had only bumps and bruises, but unfortunately, Dan was not so lucky.  His injuries were far more severe and numerous; he fractured both forearms and the L4 vertebra, broke his left femur and 5 ribs, ruptured his diaphragm, lacerated his liver, and had a collapsed lung.  

 

Dan doesn't remember much of the accident or the immediate aftermath, except for the EMT asking him if he knew where he was, what year it was, and who the President was.  He's told me he thinks he only got two out of the three questions correct.  After the accident, he had to be cut out of his car and airlifted to a nearby hospital where he was put into a medically-induced coma for three days.  

 

When Dan woke from his coma, he tried to process what had happened.  He took stock of his physical condition which included staples in his left arm, left thigh, and abdomen; a chest brace; a cast on his right arm; and numerous tubes coming from his chest and nose. Once he was able to talk with a doctor about what had happened to him, he found out that he also had two metal plates and screws in his left arm, and a metal rod in his left leg.  

 

Because of all these injuries, Dan could not walk, go to the bathroom, or feed himself.  He was overwhelmed with the extent of his injuries and the long road ahead of him to recovery.  He didn't know if he would be able to do what he needed to do to fully recover.  The more he thought about it, though, he realized that there were three things he did know:  he loved life, he loved his family, and he loved what he did for a living.  So in the end, there was no question that he was going to try.

 

For the next two weeks,  Dan's therapy entailed just sitting up in bed, trying to feed himself, and learning how to breath again on his own.  Even though the progress was slow and difficult, Dan never lost his focus.  He wanted to be pushed and he wanted to get better.  After 14 days in the hospital, Dan was discharged to a nursing home to continue his physical therapy.  

 

Upon arriving at the nursing home, the highlight for Dan was being able to get his first bath in two weeks.   He still remembers how great it felt!  It's amazing how much we take for granted and how the little things can mean so much after you've lost them.  Most of the next month was spent learning Activities of Daily Living (ADLs):  brushing teeth, using utensils, cleaning himself, and getting into and out of a wheelchair.  

 

Dan made great progress while in the nursing home.  When he first arrived, he had trouble just lifting a styrofoam cup half filled with water, and by the time he left, he was able to get into and out of a wheelchair on his own.  Even though this was great progress, and gave Dan a great sense of accomplishment, he knew that he still wanted to improve even more and to be further challenged.  

 

After that month in the nursing home, Dan requested to be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital where he continued his recovery.  He wound up staying in the rehabilitation hospital for two more weeks, and while there, he received extensive physical, respiratory, occupational, and recreational therapy.  It was there that he began to learn how to manage on his own with a wheelchair and crutches so that he could gain some of his independence again.

 

During this time of recovery, Dan had his moments of vulnerability and helplessness, but he always reminded himself of the three things that were constants in his life: that he loved life, he loved his family, and he loved what he did for a living.  These three things kept him focused and determined to keep trying.  Most importantly, during this whole time, he never felt sorry for himself.   He did what he had to do and kept focused on his improvements.

 

Dan spent a total of two months after the accident recovering and receiving physical therapy.  After that time, he was finally released to go home where he continued to do outpatient physical therapy, as well as physical therapy on his own at home.  

 

Dan was able to return to work five months after the accident.  After nine months, he no longer needed a wheelchair; after 12 months, he no longer needed crutches; and after 18 months, he no longer needed a cane to walk.  A year and a half after the accident, Dan was finally able to walk on his own again unassisted.  For the next five to seven years, Dan continued to work out on his own to help with pain management.  

 

Every year, Dan returns to the hospital to thank the physical therapist who helped him through those first few weeks after the accident.  He also goes back and thanks the staff on the orthopedic floor, the helicopter pilots, and the ER and EMT staff.  This is the type of person Dan is.  He knows how serious his injuries were, and truly appreciates all who helped to save his life.  

 

Today, Dan is still as determined as ever to improve his health and physical condition.  I started training with Dan in 2010.  At that time, he couldn't do more than 5 pushups, couldn't hold a wall sit for more than 30 seconds, and could only walk on a treadmill set to a small incline.  Since training with me, he can now do 30 pushups, hold a two-minute plank, hold a two-minute wall sit, walk on a treadmill set to a 30% incline, and bear crawl 30 yards.  His motivation and determination are as strong as ever.  I consider myself very lucky to have met Dan and to be his trainer.  His story makes me realize not only how precious life is, but also motivates me to stay focused and to never give up.