James' story

James Taylor on his porch at home following rehabilitation.

James Taylor was riding his ATV, a place of solace after the sudden loss of his grandmother. But the ATV flipped, pinning him underneath. The 15-year-old was rushed to Geisinger Medical Center where scans showed a severe spinal cord injury, necessitating two complex surgical procedures and leaving James facing an uncertain future.

It was going to be a tough, uncertain road back for the fun loving teen who lived with his grandparents and guardian, his aunt Julie. James typically filled his days with family, school, hanging out with friends swimming and playing video games – but this accident was going to take all he had to regain his independence and zest for life.

Julie remembers those days as, "the longest few weeks of our lives." However, James' faith and determination helped propel him. "I'll pray and ask God for help," he told the doctors when they warned him of a potentially long recovery journey.

After tending to his immediate needs and stabilizing James, his medical team recommended acute inpatient rehabilitation. The teen was still managing pain from his injuries and needed assistance for mobility and daily living activities. James transferred to Penn State Health Rehabilitation Hospital to begin regaining his independence.

Initial physical therapy (PT) sessions focused on improving his core strength so he could sit upright and balance himself independently. Next up, PT had him transferring his body weight from his bed to his wheelchair. James was anxious about these movements, but his team was by his side, teaching and encouraging. They showed him how to use a transfer board -- a bridge between two surfaces -- and soon, he was able to move from his bed to a chair and other surfaces too. His therapists also worked with him on rising to stand using parallel bars. Parallel bars provide the patient with stability, while therapists help facilitate the patient’s movement.

James' family, especially his grandfather who visited every Sunday, were a regular presence.  They provided support while also learning how to help James once he returned home.

Eight weeks after admitting to Penn State Health Rehabilitation Hospital’s pediatric therapy program, James achieved his goal of walking 300 feet with a walker and returned home with his family. He continued to build his functional skills, strength, coordination and balance by participating in six weeks of intensive therapy with the Penn State Health Rehab Hospital’s outpatient comprehensive day program. There, he improved his leg strength with daily rides on a Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) bike. The bike connects to a series of electrode pads that are placed over the leg muscles. Those pads deliver low level electrical impulses that stimulated James’ nerves at the right point in peddle rotation helping to improve the muscle reaction and strength of his legs.  As he improved, James’ therapist advanced him to specialty crutches that feature forearm cuffs and are less cumbersome than standard crutches or a walker and more stable than a cane.

After completing the intensive outpatient day program and making strides in his mobility and strength, James transitioned to continuing therapy at the outpatient center close to home.  His family expressed thanks to the professionals who were supportive and kind to James through all the different phases of rehabilitation.  The smooth transitions between facilities helped tame their anxiety in dealing with such a traumatic accident and challenging recovery. “Over the past year, we’ve just been amazed by the ability of the staff to help him.” James expressed gratitude for his support network, including his family, friends, and coworkers who rallied around him throughout his journey.

After a long year, James said that he knew things were returning to normal when he started using the riding mower and backhoe for work at his home.  As James embarks on his next chapter, he envisions a future filled with both short-term aspirations — swimming, biking, and getting his driver’s license — as well as long term goals of becoming a mystery author or possibly going into the healthcare profession.