Patient Rodney HaigisIn October 2005, the unthinkable happened. I was involved in a very serious car accident. I was lucky to survive it, but my life was forever changed as a result of my injuries, which included a broken neck and severe spinal cord damage, among others.

About a month after the accident, I was discharged from Shock Trauma and transitioned to the University of Maryland Rehabilitation & Orthopaedic Institute, hoping for the best in terms of my ability to recover, but without confidence that I would actually ever be able to stand on my own two feet again. I remember clear as day the first time they wheeled me into the rehab gym; I was intimidated and felt useless. The therapists treated me with great care, stretching me and moving my body around slowly.

Eventually, I reached my first major milestone: I wiggled my toes for the first time. About a month later, my second major milestone occurred when I lifted my leg up off the bed about one inch. It doesn’t sound like much, but for me, it felt like an absolute miracle. I cried happy tears that day!

In late January, I was finally able to go home, and my recovery process continued with visits from a home therapy aid, and then eventually I returned to UM Rehab & Ortho for outpatient therapy. While I used a wheelchair to maximize my mobility (and continue to do so to this day), over time, I did learn to walk again using assisted devices, and I officially became a “lefty” since my functionality is now very limited on my right side.

Over the years, I have continued to see Dr. Peter Gorman for follow-up appointments, and with his encouragement, I have had the unique opportunity to take part in a number of research-based programs offered at UM Rehab & Ortho. The first study I participated in involved the Lokomat, which is a device that physically supports patients with spinal cord injuries as they attempt to incorporate fitness back into their lives. I later participated in a second study, which again involved use of the Lokomat but also incorporated aquatic therapy. I was happy to volunteer for these studies because I was able to work on improving my fitness, and the team at UM Rehab & Ortho was able to monitor my progress and evaluate how this technology could help future patients with injuries similar to mine.

Then, in 2013, I started to seriously consider undergoing bariatric surgery. I had gained a lot of weight over the years since the accident simply because of my limited mobility. As I researched this possibility it became clear to me and the folks at UM Rehab & Ortho that there are very few known cases of individuals with spinal cord injuries undergoing surgical weight loss procedures. I understood the risks, but also the benefits of having the surgery, and I decided to go for it.

In September 2013, I underwent the gastric sleeve procedure. There are so few, if any, cases of patients with spinal cord injuries undergoing surgical weight loss, so my case became a unique new research project for the UM Rehab team. They closely monitored me as I gradually lost more than 100 pounds, collecting data and insights from my experience that might be useful for other patients.

In my opinion, participating in these research studies has been a true win-win. My recovery process has incorporated use of some of the latest technology, like the Lokomat, that I otherwise may not have had access to. I can do many things now that I could not do before; in fact, I opened my own cheesecake business based out of my home, allowing me to pursue a passion while also keeping busy. I believe that some of the specialized therapy I underwent as a participant in UM Rehab & Ortho’s research efforts has contributed to my ability to pursue this. On the flip side, I know that my recovery process has been unique, and I feel good about the fact that I have been able to “give back” in some way to the team that has taken such good care of me ever since that fateful day in 2005.