50 Feet

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

By guest blogger Brian Heiser

Everyone has a Story

Since I've been in the physical therapy community, I have come across many stories and have met many people along the way. Some of the stories are humorous and some are very sad. I have met some very courageous veterans who stormed the beaches of Normandy and later fought in the Battle of the Bulge. I have met very wealthy people and some extremely poor people. I have met people who have no one else to talk to but me and are grateful that someone cares enough to listen to their story. I have met individuals who after their stroke cannot even use the bathroom without assistance but are happy that they are still alive. Out of all the patients I have met over the past couple years; I had a patient today that has inspired me more than any other person since I have started. I will call him Joe; I cannot put his name in writing. Here is his story.


Today, I met an 18 year old college student named Joe. He is not your average 18 year old male. Joe is a very quiet introverted person. He was raised by both parents who are both high school teachers. He was not the star QB on his high school football team neither was he a popular person. Joe is the kind of person that is extremely book smart and plays a lot of video games. He did not have many friends.

Joe started his freshman year of college in the fall of 2012 at the age of 17. Since he was younger than the rest of the freshman class with a shy personality, Joe did not make friends. Although he had a strong family relationship, Joe was lost and felt as if he was alone in this world.

This past March, Joe attempted suicide by jumping off the top of his five story dorm building. He sustained an L3-L4 burst fracture in his lower back and shattered the bones in his ankle. He was in the hospital for several weeks. He sustained a partial spinal cord injury and was told he would be unable to functionally walk again and would be wheelchair bound for the rest of his life due to the nature of his injury.

Small Steps

Today while attending a neuro clinic, I had the opportunity to work with and observe this patient. He has been working on walking with bilateral ankle-foot orthosis in the parallel bars. Although he has been able to move his feet forward, his walking is nonfunctional because he bears all of his weight through his arms onto the parallel bars. Today it was decided to see if Joe could ambulate with a front wheeled walker outside of the parallel bars making him more functional in his house and community. We set up the walker and assisted him in standing. Joe began to walk. His first walk was 16 feet and his second walk was 25 feet.

At the end of treatment, Joe's dad arrived to take him home. Although Joe was exhausted by the end of treatment, we insisted that he walk so his father could see. Joe agreed to give it one last shot. He stood up gathered himself and proceeded to walk - he proceeded to walk across the clinic one step in front of the other. With every step all members of the staff and other patients became silent and began to watch. When Joe was unable to walk any further the entire clinic applauded Joe. His dad was amazed, in shock and in tears. He videotaped the entire journey his son made walking and at the end they hugged and embraced each other. Joe had walked 50 feet.

In Darkness there is Light

I did not know this patient nor had I worked with him before. I will only have this one opportunity to work with him and he taught me more lessons and inspired me in more ways than any other patient. Joe perceived himself to be a nobody, a loner, a loser. He sensed he was going nowhere in life and had hit rock bottom. The only way he thought he could end his self-perceived terrible life was to jump off of a building. I'm sure there are more reasons to why he decided to jump off which I will never know.

Even in someone’s darkest hour comes light. When Joe hit rock bottom, the Lord blessed him with a second chance at life. By giving Joe this second chance and giving him the strength and courage to beat the odds Joe has inspired me in many ways. I understand that attempted suicide is not something to be inspired by but to bounce back from his darkest moment the way he has speaks volumes. It’s not where you are in life and what you have done but it’s where you are going and how you get there that shows the true character of a man. Although Joe struggled in the beginning he has bounced back and proved his doctors wrong. 50 feet doesn't seem like that much but to Joe it was everything.