No Spasms, No Limits

Five years ago I knew exactly what my goals were. I knew where I was headed. I had worked ten […]

Five years ago I knew exactly what my goals were. I knew where I was headed. I had worked ten arduous years to get to that point. I was going to the 2002 Olympics to represent the United States in speedskating.

Skating taught me a lot. I learned disciplines and the rewards of hard work. I began my training when I was eight years old. At seventeen, I broke the national record for the 500 meter race and won the National Long Track Speedskating Championship. I worked hard for those titles. I trained year round—sometimes twice a day—from six in the morning until long after dark. I paid close attention to what I put in my body and was careful to get the right amount of sleep. I was totally focused on my sport. Before I did anything, I thought about how it would affect my skating. Speedskating was my life.

Life is subject to change. On August 3, 2000, on the way back from a morning practice, a semi-truck wanted the lane in which I was driving. I was forced off the road, rolled my car and incurred a broken neck and C5-6 spinal cord injury.

In an instant my goals shifted. Instead of striving for the Olympics, I was striving to do basic things for myself. My personal Olympics consisted of learning how to eat and drink by myself, getting dressed without help, doing my personal hygiene on my own and learning how to live life as a quadriplegic.

Throughout my first four months of therapy, I tried as hard as I could to become more independent, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not be left alone for even a minute. The muscles that I had spent years building had become my worst enemy. My spinal cord injury had caused my arms, legs, and trunk muscles to have the worst spasms the nurses at the hospital had ever seen.

Despite weighing only 150 pounds, nobody at the hospital wanted to transfer me into bed for fear of a spasm attack. When evening came, it took as many as five nurses to transfer me. Despite these precautions my spasms still caused me more than once to fall from my bed or chair onto the floor. During the day when I was in my chair, I was strapped in like a hostage.

The doctors tried to deal with the spasms with traditional medication. I took all sorts of combinations of Baclofen, Dantrium, Zanaflex, Clonapen, Trazadone, and a few others. These medications left me sleepy, glazed over and completely changed my usually happy motivated personality. I remember my mom telling the doctor that she couldn’t stand for me to take any more of these medications because she wanted her son back.

As much as I feared surgery, I knew I had to do something about my spasms. After getting a successful test dosage of Baclofen injected into my spinal fluid, I decided to get a Medtronic Baclofen Infusion Pump. I had the pump inserted in the right side of my stomach and after a few days of recovering from the surgery I had the second big change in my life.

I lost the straps on my chest, abdomen and feet that had bound me to my chair. I found new working muscles that had been covered up by spasticity. I spent longer and longer periods of time away from nurses and therapists and more and more times with friends and family. I was no longer a prisoner of my spasms.

Despite missing my entire senior year of high school, I managed—with the help of tutors—to graduate with the rest of my class. Four years later I graduated with honors from Augsburg College with a degree in Marketing. I am now looking for full time employment. On top of that, I am driving my own accessible van. All of this was totally unimaginable in my pre-pump period.

I am not cutting time off speedskating races anymore. I am in search of new goals. Thanks to my Baclofen pump I can do that. When I land the career job I have been searching for, I will take the disciplines I learned in speedskating and developed throughout my recovery to train for my future.

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