Last March, Chris Graystone was enjoying a fun evening with friends. However, the night filled with good laughs and memories took a turn for the worse when a few friends decided to take a polar bear plunge. Chris decided to join them.
While making his way to the lake, Chris tripped over uneven ground just before the dock and fell into the water. He knew right away he was injured.
“When I fell in the water, I realized my legs weren’t working,” says Chris. “I called out for help.”
Nearby friends pulled Chris to shore, and covered him with blankets to keep him warm. One friend with a first responder background knew Chris likely suffered a spinal cord injury, so moved Chris as little as possible while they waited for the ambulance to arrive.
When Chris arrived at the hospital, surgeons were waiting for him. They quickly brought Chris to the operating room, but not before asking if he had a religious affiliation and if he wanted his last rites performed.
“I told the surgeons it was their job to make sure I survived,” says Chris.
Chris’s accident caused him to break his neck. His C5 and C6 vertebrae (located just above the shoulder line) were severed. During surgery, surgeons removed the broken disks and inserted a plate with four screws. He woke up with his head in a halo to keep it at a fixed level and forward-facing position, which Chris wore for four months.
When Chris’s daughters came to visit for the first time after his accident, they were nervous to get close to him.
“My daughters were scared at first with all the wires and head gear, but it became easier for them,” shares Chris.
His family soon became used to all the equipment, and Chris’s daughters were eager to help and support their dad.
Chris stayed at the hospital for five days before transferring to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.
“I chose Mary Free Bed because they provide the best care and I knew I would have a faster recovery,” says Chris.
When Chris started therapy with Mary Free Bed’s Spinal Cord Injury Program, he couldn’t move anything on the left side of his body from the legs down, and his right side mobility was limited.
It wasn’t until the third week of therapy that he was able to move his left toe.
Chris stayed motivated. He requested to receive as much therapy as possible because he didn’t want to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
“Everyone at Mary Free Bed went the extra mile, listened, and was very caring,” says Chris. “They have more patience than I could ever think about having.”
Watch this video of Chris using the parallel bars and the assistance of a Mary Free Bed physical therapist, Mary Haghshenas, to move his legs.
While Chris didn’t mind the physical therapy, he found occupational therapy to be the most difficult. As an independent person, it was frustrating for Chris to relearn daily living skills, such as getting dressed, transfers, and sitting up in bed.
However, knowing other patients at Mary Free Bed had bigger obstacles to overcome helped Chris keep his injury and recovery in perspective.
Chris also found motivation from his roommate, who suffered a similar injury. In fact, they still keep in contact and even hunted together this past season.
After six weeks of therapy, Chris graduated from Mary Free Bed. He left in a wheelchair and wearing a halo. But his recovery didn’t stop there.
Chris continued outpatient therapy at Mary Free Bed and enjoyed working with the same physical therapist, Mary, from his inpatient stay.
“Mary was great from the beginning to the end,” says Chris.
Currently, Chris doesn’t have sensation from the bottom of his rib cage to the top of his thighs. But, he tries not to let this slow him down.
When he got home, Chris placed his wheelchair in the garage to wean himself from it. He remarkably transitioned to using a walker, and then to crutches.
The next obstacle on his list to overcome is building up his stamina and strength.
“If I do too much one day, I’m down for the next day,” Chris explains.
To help him stay on track, Chris is doing exercises through a home program, which Mary helped set up.
Chris is thankful for the time he spent at Mary Free Bed and his recovery.
“Everyone is going to help you the best they can,” says Chris “I don’t think you could go anywhere else and get better treatment.”
Charlotte Milligan writes for the Stories That Move You blog and helps manage Mary Free Bed’s website and social media.