Billy's story

Billy Blatt stands with his therapists.

Billy Blatt enjoyed working in excavation and serving his community as a volunteer firefighter. The 20-year-old was also a fan of dirt bike racing, but a terrible training accident put him on an unexpected path. Airlifted to Hershey Medical Center, he was treated for a traumatic brain injury, internal injuries, a compression fracture in his spine and multiple facial fractures. Billy faced a difficult recovery. Unable to breathe or ingest food on his own, he initially received ventilation and nutrition through a tracheotomy and feeding tube, respectively.

Billy’s mom, Traci, was by his side the entire time, keeping a journal of his hospitalization and motivating him to keep working towards improvement. After three weeks, he was ready for more intensive rehabilitation and admitted to Penn State Health Rehabilitation Hospital. Billy had no recollection of the accident or his time in the hospital — his first memories following that time are of being in the rehabilitation hospital.

Billy’s speech therapist conducted tests to see if he was able to breathe on his own without supplemental oxygen, and accordingly, his breathing tube was removed. After working with speech therapy on exercises to strengthen his swallowing muscles such as an effortful swallow and safe swallow strategies such as taking small bites/sips and alternating solids and liquids, Billy was also able to have his feeding tube removed. His diet slowly advanced from liquids to thickened liquids, pureed solids and eventually to soft solids and thin liquids by discharge.

Initially, Billy required assistance for transfers — two therapists to help him walk due to his left-sided weakness. His physical therapist focused on strengthening his muscles and safely increasing his balance and coordination by guiding him through therapeutic resistance band exercises and having him walk using the hallway railing. This soon led to Billy walking with a four-pointed cane. Through repetition of these exercises, Billy increased his endurance and mobility and successfully walked 56 feet with the cane, which resonated with him as his dirt bike number was 56.

In occupational therapy (OT), Billy’s main goals were to maximize his independence with daily living activities such as bathing, dressing and toileting. He also wanted to increase the strength and coordination of his left arm. During OT, Billy’s therapist focused on exercises using his left arm and hand to restore function. To address this goal he participated in activities of interest to him, including playing bean bag toss, shooting a basketball and playing ring toss. As his arm improved, he participated in tasks that challenged both arms at the same time to retrain his brain to use his left arm more without reminders – for example, balancing a ping pong ball on a cone in his left hand while tossing bean bags with his right hand. Billy went from being unable to lift his arm from the bed on his evaluation day, to successfully using his left arm while dressing, bathing and grooming.

After sixteen days of inpatient rehabilitation, Billy was able to walk again — over 200 feet. In that time he also went from climbing four steps to managing a full flight of 12 stairs with steadying assistance. On his triumphant return home, he was escorted by fire trucks from his volunteer company. Billy expressed gratitude to his Penn State Health Rehabilitation Hospital care team and plans to continue to build his strength and endurance with a focus on work-related skills through outpatient therapy.