On July 5, 2015, 20-year-old Skyler Gray of Milan, Missouri, had her life forever changed in a moment. Skyler was involved in a motor vehicle accident in northern Missouri. During the accident, the truck flipped and she was ejected from the passenger’s seat resulting in two fractured vertebrae in the cervical area of her spine, a broken clavicle and paralysis from the shoulders down. She was transferred by ambulance to a nearby emergency room in Milan, and later by helicopter to Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa, due to the severity of her injuries. When she arrived at Mercy, she was unconscious and intubated. Then, during transport inside of the hospital, Skyler went into cardiopulmonary arrest. The staff acted quickly and resuscitated her with CPR and appropriate lifesaving medications.
Skyler underwent a surgical fusion to repair the fractured vertebrae in her neck. Once conscious after surgery, she was faced with the reality that she was paralyzed from her shoulders down. The first thing on her mind was figuring out how to become independent again. After two weeks at Mercy, Skyler was transferred to Rusk Rehabilitation Center to help her meet that goal and would return several times to help her achieve milestones.
During her initial stay from July to August of 2015, Skyler learned self-care skills and how to use her power chair so she could return home with her family. She also found hope through the movement of her thumb. Prior to this moment, Skyler had not experienced any movement below her shoulders.
Two months later, she returned to Rusk Rehabilitation Center to work on standing, which she achieved. Being able to stand again gave Skyler new hope at gaining her independence. In December 2015, Skyler worked with therapists on balance and mobility with a walker. Then, in February 2016, therapists helped her regain the ability to walk with a walker. Seven months later, she was able to walk out of the hospital with only minimal assistance. Skyler left Rusk that day confident that she was well on her way to being independent again.
In February 2017, she returned to the hospital after another surgical procedure to work on strengthening and mobility. Skyler describes her repeat visits to the hospital as “coming home to familiar faces.” Those familiar faces provided constant support and encouragement throughout her stays at Rusk.
“You couldn’t ask for more! Therapy was very purpose driven and goal oriented,” said Skyler.
Skyler jokes her favorite part of her day was naptime; however, she enjoyed how each day brought new firsts on her journey.
“Rusk is life changing,” said Skyler. “The people working there spend each day changing the lives of their patients for the better.”
While she would still like to return to driving and is working to establish her daily routine, she remains optimistic. “July 5th did not break me! I am stronger now than I have ever been!”