Hi. My name is Eric. This is my journey after being paralyzed in an off-road motorcycle accident on January 22, 2011. I suffered a fractured T12 resulting in a ASIA A Complete spinal cord injury. I have no sensation or motor function from my waist down and am in a wheelchair. My wife, two young daughters, family and friends have been supporting me in this journey.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Time to Drive

After months of analysis, Eric finally bought a car and a few weeks later in early November took it to get hand controls installed.  He test drove it a few times, taking Hailey and Jessi to activities and driving once to SciFit for physical therapy.

Even more time has been spent practicing getting in and out of the car, taking apart the wheel chair and moving pieces to the passenger seat, then pulling it back out and putting it all back together again.

Eric's new car with hand controls so he can drive again.  Freedom!!!

Eric at the wheel!
Hand control for acceleration and breaking. 
Pull back to accelerate and push forward to break.
The control links to metal rods that push down on the pedals.

Cool, a new car!  Oh, and daddy is driving.
Tracy is excited to be a passenger again!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

eLEGS by Berkeley Bionics (now Ekso by Ekso Bionics)

Right after I returned home from Lake Tahoe, I had a chance to try out eLEGS from Berkeley Bionics.  eLEGS is an intelligent, bionic exoskeleton that actually allows wheelchair users to stand and walk again.  Berkeley Bionics was conducting a clinical trial at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center where participants were able to try out the bionic exoskeleton for 6 weeks.  I was so excited when I received a phone call asking me if I wanted to participate in the clinical trial.

The goal for the first week was to get the exoskeleton adjusted to fit my body and to walk for 20 minutes with a walker.  It took about 30-45 minutes to get me all dialed into the exoskeleton for the first time.  The therapists gave me the walker and then asked if I was ready.  "Oh yeah, I'm ready."  And with the push of a button, the exoskeleton turned on and stood me up.  I looked around the room in amazement.  I was actually standing up again.  Now it was time to take my first steps.  The eLEGS were controlled by a pendant that the therapist held in their hands.  When I had my body in the correct position, they would push a button and I would take a step.  Then I had to move the walker forward and with a push of the button, I would take another step.  Then another and another and another.  I could not believe it, I was actually walking for the first time since my accident.  I walked for about 20 minutes the first session.  I had a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

On the second week, it only took about 10 minutes for the therapist to adjust the exoskeleton and to put it on me.  I got up and did 2 laps around the rehab facility with the walker.  After doing so well, they decided to let me try the forearm crutches.  These seemed easier to use than the walker, but were less stable.  After a few more laps, I had a good rhythm going and walked for a little more than 30 minutes. On the third week, I walked for 50 minutes.  On the remaining three sessions, the therapists switched the controls over to me.  So whenever I would swing a forearm crutch forward and place it on the ground, the opposite leg would step.  I got the hang of it really fast and I was having fun.  I was in total control now.  I had such a good time walking that I did not keep track of time.  Before I knew it, I had walked for 60 minutes and had to stop.  I also walked for 60 minutes on the remaining two sessions.

By the time I got around to writing about eLEGS, Berkeley Bionics has changed their name to Ekso Bionics and eLEGS is now being called Ekso.  You can find out more information at Ekso Bionics.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lake Tahoe and Leg Spasms

It has been 3 weeks since we have returned home from Panama.  The first week back was total chaos going from appointment to appointment and trying to just get caught up on daily activities again.  After that, we spent a week in South Lake Tahoe like we do every summer.  Unfortunately, the place we always stay at was not wheelchair accessible.  Tracy's parents and our 2 girls stayed at the condo in the Keys, while Tracy and I had to book a room at the nearest Motel 6.  It was a pain to have to drive to the motel every night so I could use the bathroom, take a shower and sleep in a super small bed.  We sure missed the California King bed we had at home.  

The kids had a great time riding their bikes without training wheels (finally!), playing at the beach, showing off their climbing skills at the playground, miniature golfing, going on nature hikes, eating ice cream at Camp Richardson and swimming in the indoor pool.  I think I got into the pool 3 times that week.  It took a little effort, but we finally figured out that two people holding my arms and one to guide my legs would make it easy for me to get in and out of the pool.  I had my life jacket on so I could float around and be with the kids in the pool.  It was so nice to be able to swim with the girls again.  

When they decided they had enough of me, I decided to practice walking back and forth across the pool.  I tried to concentrate on moving the muscles that I would normally use for walking.  Being in the pool, I did not have as much gravity working against me.  I was able to lift my legs up enough to get my feet off the bottom.  I am sure most of this was lower abdominal muscles and hips, not necessarily my leg muscles.  Every little bit helps.  I did this for an hour every time I was in the pool and I was really exhausted when it was time to get out of the water.

One of the days we decided to load up the boat and head over to Emerald Bay and hang out for the day.  Normally the ramp from the condo to the boat dock is very steep.  However, with all of the rain we had this year, the ramp was almost flat.  Getting in a boat is easy, getting back out was a challenge.  It still took 3 people to get me out of the boat just like the pool.  I must say that riding in a boat without using your legs to stabilize yourself is quite an experience.  I felt like one of those kids blow up punching bags with the sand at the bottom.  I was constantly rocking back and forth, but I never fell down!

I have had a difficult time sleeping at night.  Ever since leaving Panama, my legs have begun to spasm and twitch a lot.  The right leg seems to spasm on and off all day long while my left leg will occasionally spasm throughout the day.  They never did that before.  I have always had a slight twitch that I could hardly feel in my upper right thigh/hip area.  This is probably because that is my last level of sensation due to my T11-T12 injury.  Now when I sit on the bed with my legs straight out, I can feel the same twitch, but it is 100 times stronger and it makes my whole body shift.  When this happens, I can see my thigh muscles move, my shin muscles move and my foot will a twitch.  Unfortunately, I can’t feel or control any of these leg muscle movements. 

Over the past few days, I have noticed a new sensation on my right leg.  About 6-8 inches down from my hip joint, I can sometimes feel the muscle or skin move when I get a leg spasm.  This sensation is only on the side of the hip/leg.  Not at the front thigh area.  I do not have any touch, pressure or temperature sensation at that part, but my brain thinks it can feel when that muscle spasms.  I am not sure what to think.  Hopefully it is a positive sign that some of my damaged spinal neurons are starting to heal.

Up next…..going back to work, car shopping, intensive physical therapy and participation in a clinical trial for 6 weeks where I get to strap on a pair of Berkley Bionics e-LEGS and go for a walk!!!!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Final Day of Therapy and Injections - July 1, 2011

Today Eric had a very full physical therapy session.  

He began straight into standing exercises.  This time while he was doing sets of standing, Alexis told him to try moving his hips right and left.  This was a new challenge and Eric had to really focus but was able to use his abs to move his hips back and forth.  

For the next set of exercises Eric sat in his wheelchair and sat straight up, not leaning on the backrest.  He held a 24 inch bar in both hands and moved it like he was rowing a boat, then making a large figure 8 and finally up and down at an angle across his body.  This worked his balance, abs and shoulders.  

For the final set of exercises Eric moved to the cushioned table and did his least favorite balancing exercises.  He had to do sets reaching left, right and in front of him to touch a ball then pull himself back with his abs and lower back muscles.  He still struggles but I see a definite improvement from the first time he performed these exercises several weeks ago.  Eric's upper body and core strength has definitely increased through the physical therapy sessions.

The session concluded with the range of motion stretching of Eric's legs.  Then Eric was given a folder with printouts of physiotherapy exercises for people with spinal cord injuries.  Every day Alexis has stressed to Eric the importance of working on core body strength and doing his stretches.  Likewise, the people at the Stem Cell Institute have stressed the importance of continued physical therapy.  We have heard several reasons for this.  
  1. The stem cells go to the inflamed part of the body and exercise will supposedly stress and inflame the injured part of the body.  
  2. As a person with SCI regains functionality, it is critical to have strength to work on recovery therapy.  
  3. Maintaining physical strength, especially core strength, and balance will help a person with SCI perform day to day activities easier.

After saying our final goodbyes, we returned to the hotel then were whisked off to the Stem Cell Institute.  Eric was quickly taken in to get his spinal and IV injections of his bone marrow.  One difference with these IV injections is instead of approximately 6cc's for the umbilical cord injections, the bone marrow vial is approximately 30cc's.  

After 4 weeks, Eric has received injections of approximately 340 million stem cells.  Let's hope that over the next few months Eric begins to see improvements in functionality.  To supplement the stem cells over the next few months patients are recommended to take D3 and Folic Acid vitamins.  The Stem Cell Institute provided a 2 month supply of Stem-Kine D3 vitamin supplements.  We will buy the Folic Acid back home.   A nurse from the Stem Cell Institute will followup with Eric at 30 days and 60 days.  Based on Eric's improvements she will make a determination whether or not to recommend Eric return in 6 months.

Spinal injections team:  Nurse SantaMaria, Dr Herrera  & Dr Bowen with Eric

Samantha, Dr Hernandez (IV injections), & Elena with Eric

Eric with Pablo De La Hoya.  He manages the business side but spends a lot of time talking to patients and getting feedback.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Therapy & Buses - June 30, 2011

Physical Therapy:
Last night again we did not sleep well.  Last night Eric's leg was twitching for an hour, which it normally does not do, so maybe that is a good sign.  Then this morning the construction next door started bright and early at 6:30am.  We tried unsuccessfully to sleep through it.  After the free breakfast at the hotel, we headed to therapy. 

At BioFit, Alexis stretched Eric's legs then made him do 200 crunches.  The workout portion focused on pushup type exercises. 

First Eric did pushups.  Then he did single arm raises from a pushup position.  He held himself up in a isometric position on his forearms.  He rolled himself back and forth lifting an arm at each side.  Finally he did one arm "superman's" laying down and lifting an arm which works on lower back extensions.

Panama City Buses:
After returning to the hotel, Tracy went to try to take pictures of the colorful city buses.  These are old U.S. school buses shipped to Panama.  Local people buy them and some paint them with exquisite drawings.  Our understanding is that Panama is going to put in a metro service and these buses will go out of service and be replaced with standard (boring) buses and the same drivers will be hired to drive them.

At night this bus lights up in multi color LEDs that change from green to red to blue.  It is super cool looking.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Therapy & Injections - June 29, 2011

Our van picked us up at 10:30am to go to BioFit.  At the BioFit waiting room we met another stem cell spinal cord injury patient.  He was injured at his T6 / T7 in a rodeo 6 years ago.  Three years ago he received a single stem cell injection in Mexico and did gain some improvement.

Eric's therapy began with stretching and range of motion with his legs.  Here are pictures of the daily stretches.



After stretching it was time for 200 crunches.  We were both pretty tired today from not sleeping well and I do situps along with Eric so we both kind of groaned when we started.

Today's exercises were focused on shoulder workouts.  First was a single arm shoulder press with the added bonus of sticking the other arm straight out holding a weight.  Brutal!  Then Eric held a weight with two hands and rotated it around his head in both directions.  He did three sets of those.  

Next was fun exercises that still worked the shoulders.  First he  bounced a huge ball on each side lifting it over his head for transfer to the other side.  That was followed by a game of volley the medicine ball with Alexis. The ball was aimed head high and over each shoulder.

A little after noon we left in our van heading back to the hotel and on our way we got stuck in a traffic jam. Since we were supposed to be picked back up at 1pm for a 1:30pm injections, we were eventually rerouted to go directly to the Stem Cell Institute.  We got there early so we had to wait a long time.  Because we had not gotten to go back to the hotel, we did not have books for the wait and Tracy did not get to grab a jacket which is needed for the ice cold air conditioned facility.  Eventually Eric got brought back into the small clean room for his spinal injection.  Then suddenly there was a huge boom of thunder.  The sky opened up and it down poured rain flooding streets outside and continued to thunder and lightening.  Eric's spinal and IV injections went smoothly.  This is his first of two bone marrow stem cell injections.  

Because of the flooding and increased traffic, we had to wait even longer to get our ride home.  We eventually got back at 3:45pm starving from lack of lunch!  We debated going straight to dinner but decided to go eat snacks in the room so Eric could lie down and we will go eat dinner later.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Standing Exercises - June 28, 2011

BioFit physical therapy today began with the standard range of motion stretching of Eric's leg's then 200 crunches with a medicine ball.  

Today's exercise focused on standing exercises trying to remind Eric's body how to stand up.  Eric was unable to push himself into a standing position.  He needs something to grab onto to pull himself up.  Alexis used a cross hand grab and partially pulled Eric up while Eric tried to remind his body what it should be doing.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Schedule for the Final Week - June 27, 2011

Here is the schedule for this week:
   Monday :          BioFit in the morning.  8th IT injection in the afternoon
   Tuesday :         BioFit in the morning.
   Wednesday :   BioFit in the morning.  1st IT & 1st IV of Bone Marrow stem cells in the afternoon.
   Thursday :        BioFit in the morning.
   Friday :             BioFit in the morning.  2nd IT & 2nd IV of Bone Marrow stem cells in the afternoon.
   Saturday :         Fly home !!!

Today’s update:

The BioFit therapy began with range of motion stretching for Eric’s legs.  The workout portion focused on balancing exercises from a sitting position.  This included catching a ball and holding a ball and moving it various ways without losing balance.  Eric did pretty well, though did occasionally lose his balance.  We got back to the hotel and only had 30 minutes until our pickup to go to the Stem Cell Institute.  

This was Eric’s final spinal cord injection with the umbilical cord stem cells.  Eric was done within 5 minutes and we spent most of our time waiting to be picked back up again.  Back at the hotel Tracy went to buy a Subway sandwich so we could eat and then Eric could lie down for a few hours.

Driving Tour - June 26, 2011

Osvaldo, Eric & Scott overlooking Panama City
At midday our hired driver, Osvaldo, came to pick us up.  He drove us up to the highest hill 300 meters above Panama City.  This hill used to have American military housing.  There are still very nice houses there mostly owned by and rented by Americans.  

 At the top of the hill on one side is a view of Panama City and the Casco Viejo peninsula.  

Panama City
Scott and Eric above Casco Viejo

The other side is a view of the American bridge and Pacific side entrance to the Panama Canal.  The views were fabulous.

American Bridge at entrance to Panama Canal
Pacific entrance to Panama canal leading towards the Miraflores Locks

Next we drove through Casco Viejo where our driver pointed out some of the historic spots and restored buildings.  We drove through a very impoverished and run down area to get to the nicer restored area.  Next we went to the Amador Causeway to have lunch overlooking the ocean.  We debated quite a while on which restaurant and eventually settled on a nice Italian restaurant which had indoor seating because it was extremely hot and humid out today.  After we returned to the hotel.
Panama Flag

Time to relax and prepare for our final week of treatments before heading home next Saturday.  We are looking forward to going home next weekend!