By Sarah Parks, MSOT, OTR/L, Abby Dull, PT, DPT, CBIS, CKTP and Kaitlin O’Hara, PT, DPT, CBIS
Rainbow Rehabilitation Centers
On any given day in the summer of 2016, you could have found Greg Graham playing basketball with his friends, hanging out with his cousins, or playing video games with his little brother.
Greg had just graduated from high school and was well on his way towards working a full-time job in construction at the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. Growing up, Greg had worked hard to be a positive role model for his younger brother and close family, and he held high aspirations for himself.
As the summer was coming to an end, Greg spent the day just like many others—driving around with friends and having a good time. But on this day the driver became distracted and lost control of the vehicle. The car collided into the concrete barrier of the highway and, without a seatbelt on, Greg was ejected from the car.
The world Greg had come to know and love quickly came to a jarring new beginning. He sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI), multiple oral fractures, fracture of his right shoulder, laceration of his liver and a serious renal injury. He underwent a series of complicated surgeries and began his rehabilitation journey. The next three months were a blur as Greg spent his time fully dedicated to his physical and mental recovery in the hospital.
During the course of his hospital stay, he recalls having talked with doctors about what he could expect for recovery. One doctor told him that it could take him at least two years before he might walk again. These were words that resonated with Greg.
In January 2017, Greg moved into Rainbow Rehabilitation Center’s NeuroRehab Campus (NRC) in Farmington Hills, MI to begin his next stage of rehabilitation. Right off the bat, he began daily treatments in physical therapy (PT), occupational therapy (OT), speech-language pathology (SLP), and mental health (MH).
During this time, Greg often struggled with negative thoughts and feelings towards his situation. He could not help but wonder why he had been dealt such a bad hand and think about how this change affected the plans he had made for his life. It would have been easy to dwell on the negative feelings that he was experiencing. However, that simply was not the Greg way to navigate through life. Greg had grown up knowing that hard work, paired with a positive attitude, is what yields the best results. So he harnessed his frustrations and applied them toward making progress in his therapies.
When he first moved to the NRC, Greg was dependent on others to complete the once simple tasks of dressing, bathing, toileting, transferring himself, and walking. This dramatic change in lifestyle and independence was difficult for Greg to cope with, but he kept reminding himself of his mantra—“hard work pays off.” He found himself thinking about what his doctor had told him about walking, and he decided he was going to prove him wrong.
Through his perseverance and diligent hard work, Greg began to build up his endurance and strength. He began to squeeze his hand a little harder, reach a little further, sit with less assistance. Day by day, the little gains culminated into large, grossly noticeable changes. Within three months of intensive therapies, he could transfer himself to and from his wheelchair with use of a cane. He began walking using a four-wheeled walker with the assistance of two therapists at his side, and he could complete components of dressing and bathing himself again. It was these gains in functional independence that kept Greg motivated to continue putting forth his best effort at all times. That is, unless it was 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning. But even in these instances, Greg found something positive to look forward to each day, whether it be a trip to the movies, the bottomless popcorn he so enjoys, or a visit from his family.
At the NRC, Greg was one of the youngest individuals at the center and it was difficult for him to be away from his family during his recovery. Despite that, he demonstrated a great ability to make the best of his situation, and he managed to find ways to keep himself and his therapy team laughing through the tough times.
In April 2017, he received great news—he was able to go home and continue his therapies as an outpatient at Rainbow’s Oakland Treatment Center in Farmington, MI. In addition, he would participate in the young adult vocational program to regain work skills. In this environment, amongst peers of his age who have gone through similar experiences, he continued to progress and grow. He would come to therapy sessions and casually state that he had done an activity at home that he worked on in therapy sessions. That’s right—he was giving himself his own homework to complete to expedite his progress even more.
At this time, 10 months after his injury, Greg is now able to transfer himself to and from his wheelchair. He can dress himself with near independence. He no longer has to rely on others to access his environment, as he has built up his arm strength in order to wheel himself in the community in his wheelchair. Walking is not just something to think about in another year’s time. Through hard work in PT, he can walk up to 300 feet with the use of a cane.
Greg is truly an inspiration and a role-model to be followed by all. He proves that hard work and a positive attitude really do pay off. When asked what advice he has for others, he responded with, “Always wear a seatbelt, drive the speed limit and do not let anything distract you when driving. If you are positive, you will get positive things. It’s all up to you.”
What really is special about Greg is his uncanny ability to find laughter in any situation. Words of wisdom that we can all live by are, “Laughter is the best medicine you can have…without a prescription.”