Quad Cities, IL/IA

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Patient Progresses Following Diving Accident


By Craig Cooper, Genesis Health System

Several times previously, on a skin-scorching summer afternoon, Derek Schroeder dove into the Mississippi River at Buffalo Beach, a popular spot for swimmers and campers. He knew all the rules and warnings about diving into unknown waters.

“I had dived into the river dozens of times before. I grew up around it. I thought I was being safe. I was making a point to dive horizontally… flat… and hadn’t had any problems,’’ Schroeder said.

On the next dive, his life was instantaneously changed. When he dove, he struck a sandbar with his head. He remembers not being able to move his legs. He feared he would drown before he could get out of the water. Friends got him out and possibly saved his life.

“The next thing I remember is waking up at University of Iowa Hospitals after having neck surgery. I was told I would be a quadriplegic,’’ the 33-year-old resident of Goose Lake, Iowa now recalls. “I remember I was sunburned, and my skin itched. I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t raise my hands or arms. I couldn’t feed myself. I couldn’t use a cell phone. I can do all of those things now again.’’

Eighteen months after the accident, Schroeder is working with Genesis physical therapist Liz Arp twice a week at the Genesis Valley Fair physical therapy location in Davenport. He is working on moving himself from his motorized wheelchair to a treatment table with Arp’s assistance. Being able to transfer himself from wheelchair to car and wheelchair to bed would be major steps toward independent living.

For the 40 minutes of their session, Schroeder intensely worked on balance exercises and exercises to improve the use of his hands, arms, shoulders, and head. He explained that he has noticed more feeling in his feet and legs but cannot use them. He reached for objects with his hands and threw punches at Arp’s hands as she moved them around. He smiled often during the session.

“I had an incomplete injury to C5 and C6 (spinal cord). I was fortunate. Had it been a complete injury, I would have probably lost use of my arms and hands,’’ he said.

Working with Arp, Schroeder is making significant progress. He is back at work as an Internet sales associate and switchboard operator for Lexus of the Quad Cities. He wants to be able to drive alone and eventually move from his parents’ home.

“Oh my gosh! He has made a lot of progress,’’ Arp reports. “When we first started working with him, it would take two people to transfer him from the chair. Now, it is just me, and you can see that a lot of what he is able to do, he is almost doing by himself. He is learning different ways to do what he wants to do with less assistance. He is significantly better. It has been awesome to see the results of his hard work.’’

In the past 18 months, Schroeder has spent time at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago; a month in the inpatient rehabilitation unit at Genesis Medical Center, West Central Park, Davenport; and now in outpatient rehabilitation at the Valley Fair location.

“Every person I’ve come in contact with at Genesis and at the Chicago Institute of Rehabilitation has helped get me this far,’’ Schroeder explained. “I’ve learned a lot about coping with my situation and learning to adapt to what I’m able to do.

“I’ve learned to accept that what seems not normal is my new normal. It has taken a great support team from Genesis, my family, especially my parents, my employer, my friends, and everyone else who has been involved.’’

Schroeder’s success story is not unusual at Genesis. Although success may appear to move slowly and in small increments to outsiders watching, even a small progression may be huge for the patient.

Genesis Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation is the largest rehabilitation program in Iowa. The Genesis program is CARF-accredited with comprehensive inpatient and outpatient services focused on recovery from stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, post-surgical rehabilitation, and sports injuries.

Schroeder was recognized for his progress on May 27 by the Quad City River Bandits. Three more Home Runs for Life patients of Genesis will be recognized in June, July, and August.

For more information or to schedule a tour, call 309-281-3270.

Photo courtesy of Genesis Health System