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Patient stories

Spinal cord injury patient stories

Dillon Borowicz

Dillon Borowicz: Moving forward with a strong work ethic

In the summer of 2012, just before his senior year in high school, Dillon Borowicz of Lakeville dove into his family’s pool; but unlike the hundreds of times he’d done this before, this time he struck the pool’s bottom and had to be pulled out by his brother. Formerly an athlete in football and lacrosse, Borowicz became paralyzed from the neck down and began therapy as an inpatient at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute – Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

Jack Jablonski

Jack Jablonski is making strides after hockey injury

In December 2011, 16-year-old Jack Jablonski was injured severely during a high school hockey game. In late January 2012, he began inpatient rehabilitation at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute - Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

Susan Fink

Profile of an artist: Susan Fink

Susan Fink broke her neck and injured her spinal cord in a cross-country skiing accident. When she arrived at Courage Kenny she was only able to move the big toe on her right foot.

Nick Fischer

Spinal cord injury survivor wakes up to a 'good day'

A motorcycle crash broke Nick Fischer's back and left him paralyzed from the waist down. After hearing his diagnosis he had two questions "Can I get my laptop to check emails?" and "When does rehab start?"

Tom Paulus

Tom Paulus: One step at time

Tom Paulus is thankful he never heard the news his family did in April 2007. After suffering serious injuries from a three-story fall during a construction accident, doctors told his family that he would most likely be paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life.

Joe Stone

Joe Stone: Life came crashing down

Joe Stone's life as he knew it came crashing down on Montana's Mount Jumbo. The impact left him paralyzed from the chest down. One year later, Stone rode through Glacier National Park on his hand-powered bicycle.

Doreen Harrington

Walking again after 25 years

It began 25 years ago with weakness that caused Doreen Harrington's legs to give way without warning. It turned out to be a spinal infarction that left her a paraplegic. Her doctors told her she'd never walk again.

Dillon Borowicz: Moving forward with a strong work ethic

Dillon Borowicz

In the summer of 2012, just before his senior year in high school, Dillon Borowicz of Lakeville dove into his family’s pool; but unlike the hundreds of times he’d done this before, this time he struck the pool’s bottom and had to be pulled out by his brother. Formerly an athlete in football and lacrosse, Borowicz became paralyzed from the neck down and began therapy as an inpatient at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute – Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

X-rays showed that his spine was unstable – even with a halo – so he had to go back to surgery to have his spine fused. While this would have put a dent in the optimism of some patients, his therapists – Jamie Vidinich, PT, Eva Rychly, PT and Anna Braun, OTR/L – say that Borowicz tackled his therapy with perseverance, doing whatever it took to improve. They added that Borowicz is personable and polite with an infectious smile. As an inpatient, he made the effort to know all of the staff and other patients by name, offering praise and encouragement throughout the rehab process. His high school classmates were so inspired by his positive attitude and accomplishments that they elected him homecoming king while he was still hospitalized.

Vidinich said, “Shoulder strength and scapular control were limiting factors for Dillon’s progress with mobility but not for lack of effort on his part. He worked diligently on his home program and was constantly asking if there were new or different ways he could improve his strength.” Being realistic about his function was another strong point; however, Borowicz was not willing to give in easily; he would commit to a task until he met his goal.

A good student as well, he was motivated to return to school to finish his senior year and graduate with his class. He is currently a student at Normandale Community College and intends to complete a business degree.

Before his injury, Borowicz was a great help to his parents in caring for their home and land; he continues to do so despite his disability. Best of all, he remains a strong role model for his brother as he demonstrates patience, responsibility and a strong work ethic.

Jablonski is making strides after hockey injury

Jack Jablonski works with a Courage Kenny therapist.

In December 2011, 16-year-old Jack Jablonski was injured severely during a high school hockey game. In late January 2012, he began inpatient rehabilitation at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute - Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

Jablonski continues to recover as an outpatient at Courage Center, a Minnesota-based non-profit rehabilitation and resource center, and has a great attitude and work ethic in facing the challenges ahead.

Because of Jablonski's on-ice injury, new high school hockey rules have been put in place to make the game safer. 

Jack Jablonski media coverage

During this interview, Jack's mom says her son hopes to see his team win the state championship. This goal since has been achieved.

Spinal cord injury survivor wakes up to a 'good day'

Nick bending his elbows back behind his head with a therapist.When Nick Fischer and his then fiancée, Stacie, saddled upon their motorcycle for a trip from their home in Woodbury, Minnesota, to Fargo, North Dakota in June 2009, they planned to pick up their marriage license and participate in a charity motorcycle ride. They obtained the marriage license, but the charity ride would be out of the question.

It had been raining and the traffic on Interstate 94 was slow. Just as Fischer started merging into the left lane, a car from behind shot around and cut him off.

"I was only traveling 10 miles per hour — but my motorcycle skidded across the wet road, right into the back of my Mom's car," he recalled. As Fischer hit the ground — the vertebrae in his lower back snapped, paralyzing his legs.

When his doctor gave him the diagnosis, he had only two questions. "Can I get my laptop to check e-mails?" and "when does rehab start?" "I didn't have time to waste," says Fischer. "I can't change what happened, but I can move forward."

Moving forward

Following surgery and two weeks in the intensive care unit, Fischer moved to a regular hospital room where he had another life-changing experience. Sporting a Superman t-shirt while surrounded by family and friends, Fischer and his fiancé exchanged wedding vows.

After transferring to Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute's inpatient unit at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Fischer spent the next month learning skills he would need to live independently. He made quick progress and earned a reputation for his outgoing personality, appetite to learn and constant humor.

On the road again

The day after Fischer was discharged from the Institute, he returned to work as director of admissions at DeVry University. He continued outpatient therapy for several weeks, focusing on wheelchair mobility, transferring in and out of the chair and negotiating curbs.

"My favorite part was using the standing frame," says Fischer. "It simply felt great to stand and see people at eye-level again."

Once Fischer's back brace was removed in September 2009, he quickly learned to drive a car using hand controls to accelerate and brake.

Life after Courage Kenny

Fischer has completed therapy, but remains close to many team members at the Institute. "I was kind of sad to leave Courage Kenny. The nursing staff and therapists were incredible. They challenged me and played an important role in preparing me for my new life."

In time, he hopes to return to the Institute to help other spinal cord injury survivors adjust to life. First things first though — Fischer and his wife, Stacie, will celebrate with a long overdue honeymoon.

"Of course, it'd be nice if the accident had never happened, but it's not going to hold me back. I can't always control life, but I can control my attitude. If I wake up and decide it's going to be a good day, then it's going to be a good day."


Source: Courage Kenny Foundation, Possibilities Magazine, winter 2009
Reviewed by: Jennine L. Speier, MD
First Published: 12/01/2009
Last Reviewed: 05/11/2011

One step at a time

Tom Paulus down on one knee holding a green ball.Tom Paulus is thankful that he never heard the news that his family did in April 2007. After suffering serious injuries from a three-story fall during a construction accident, doctors told his family he would most likely be paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life.

"At the time, I couldn't move my feet or legs," explained Paulus. "But the good news was I did have some feeling in my feet."

Paulus spent 11 days at Regions Hospital and then chose to be transferred to Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. "It was a wonderful experience to arrive at Courage Kenny, especially when I saw my therapy schedule," said Paulus. "The care from everyone — nurses, doctors, therapists and others — was outstanding."

A 40-year-old married father of three, Paulus spent the next month in intense inpatient therapy. He quickly learned to sit up and then balance himself, and small milestones kept him moving forward day after day. He credits the staff and doctors for taking the time to really listen and setting him on a path for success.

Every couple of weeks, his therapists introduced a new technology into his therapy. He benefited from partial weight bearing gait therapy on the LiteGait® and the Lokomat® — a highly specialized piece of equipment that automates therapy on a treadmill. The simulated walking helped prepare him for his first few steps he took with the aid of parallel bars. "A week later I started walking with a walker," he said. "Those were exciting days."

Aquatic therapy also helped in his recovery. Through Abbott Northwestern's Institute for Health and Healing, he also received integrative medicine services including massage therapy, acupuncture and reflexology. "All of those services helped me recover," he stated. "It was very unique to have them available."

Today, Paulus spends three days a week at the Institute for outpatient therapy sessions. He is able to walk with a cane and hopes to walk on his own by summer. "Luckily, I never heard the words 'you're paralyzed,' " said Paulus. "Nobody ever told me that I couldn't walk, so I just did."


Source: Courage Kenny Foundation, Possibilities Magazine, spring 2008
Reviewed by: Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute
First Published: 05/15/2008
Last Reviewed: 05/15/2008

Life came crashing down

Joe Stone uses his hands to power his bike down a Montana highway.

In the summer of 2010, Joe Stone sustained a spinal cord injury while engaged in a speed flying accident on Montana's Mount Jumbo. The impact left him with seven broken vertebrae, spinal cord damage and paralysis from the chest down.

Following a period of hospitalization and healing, he came to Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital for inpatient rehabilitation.

From the first day, Stone was motivated to get stronger and figure out ways of achieving success.

"Joe is a person who is motivated to work hard at any type of sport or leisure activity, and his injury proved to be a chance to see an opportunity for a new type of work," said Jennifer Theis, occupational therapist and program coordinator for the Spinal Cord System of Care.

While in inpatient rehabilitation, Stone was an active participant in the spinal cord injury education group and encouraged fellow patients to share their experiences, knowledge, questions and concerns. He has maintained contact with some of group members and motivates them to set and achieve goals.

As an outpatient, he continued to push his therapists to explore options that would increase his function and independence in the community.

Stone is also committed to the continual improvement of medical rehabilitation. During the Courage Kenny reaccreditation process by CARF (Committee on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities), Stone enthusiastically participated in a phone interview that provided useful information to the surveyor on the spinal cord program. He is also a participant in a University of Minnesota study on an external gait orthosis.

Karl Sandin, MD sitting beside 2011 Inspiration Award recipient Joe Stone

Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute Physician-in-chief Karl Sandin, MD, MPH (left) gives Joe Stone an Inspiration Award.

During his rehabilitation, Stone established a personal goal of learning how to ride a hand cycle, something he had not done before his accident.

In addition, he set an even loftier goal for himself – to ride the 105-mile distance through Glacier National Park in Montana to reach the site on the first anniversary of his original injury, August 2011.

While preparing to achieve this goal, he inspired others as he shared his story and goals. He even sparked the interest of filmmakers who began work on a documentary about Stone and his preparation to ride in Montana.

Stone's success is not only that he learned to ride the cycle and take on an ambitious journey, but also that he connected with others in the community who supported him in his efforts and received encouragement from him in return.

Stone has been a featured speaker at the University of Minnesota physical therapy doctorate program. He also presented his story at a Courage Kenny Grad School program.

Joe Stone media coverage


Source: 2011 Inspiration Award
Reviewed by: Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute
First Published: 09/16/2011
Last Reviewed: 09/16/2011

Walking again after 25 years

Doreen Harrington with Lloyd Fjare, PT.

It began 25 years ago with weakness that caused Doreen Harrington's legs to give way without warning. It turned out to be a spinal infarction that left her a paraplegic. Her doctors told her she'd never gain function in her legs and would never walk again.

Harrington learned to get along in a wheelchair. She raised her three children, and cooked and cleaned for her family.

However, 23 years later, both of her shoulders gave out from wear and tear on her rotator cuffs. In 2009, she began physical therapy treatment for her shoulder symptoms at Courage Kenny Sports & Physical Therapy Center – Shoreview.

During therapy on Harrington's arms, something else grabbed the attention of Lloyd Fjare, PT, Harrington's physical therapist.

"As I went to lift Doreen's legs," he said, "I realized she had already done it herself. I commented to Doreen – 'I thought you couldn't move your legs.' She said 'I can't.' 'But you just did,' I told her."

Fjare then got an order from Harrington's physician to work on leg strengthening and to evaluate ambulation capabilities.

Within months, Harrington had learned to walk – at first going only five feet, using a platform walker and requiring a lot of assistance – progressing to independent transfers for sitting and standing and then walking laps around the clinic.

Harrington is an upbeat and energetic person, who says she learned a lot from using a wheelchair and doesn't regret anything about her life.

However, she always had the sense she would walk again. Her positive attitude, will and determination to "never give up" are inspirational to other patients and everyone else she encounters.


Source: 2011 Inspiration Award
Reviewed by: Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute
First Published: 09/16/2011
Last Reviewed: 09/16/2011