Atlanta resident Christian Gersain, 27, had his hands full between his job as a construction worker and being a father to three young children, aged eight, six and one. Christian, his wife Graciela and their children enjoy shopping, traveling, camping and having family gatherings. When not working, Christian also enjoyed playing with the kids and working in the yard.
On a weekend in June, Christian and his family had a small picnic with friends before he headed out with his uncle and two co-workers to Plant City, Florida for a job the next day. About four hours into the trip, they made a stop at a gas station and shortly after, they got into an accident. Christian was stuck in the vehicle for an hour, only being freed when a rescue team cut the truck in half. Christian was badly injured and rushed to University of Florida Shands Hospital in Gainesville.
Upon arrival, it was determined that Christian had a spinal cord injury affecting the C5 and C6 vertebrae in his neck. He underwent surgery that evening, then spent the next three weeks stabilizing but needed inpatient rehabilitation.
Christian and his family chose UF Health Rehabilitation Hospital where he spent another three weeks healing and recovering before returning to University of Florida Shands Hospital to repair an open incision. A week later, he once again returned to UF Health Rehabilitation Hospital to continue his rehabilitation.
When Christian arrived, he required total assistance for feeding and grooming as well as the assistance of two people for toileting, bathing and dressing. He also needed two to three people to assist with transferring from the bed to the wheelchair with a sliding board.
Christian recalled not being able to feel his legs at all. His main goal was to walk again, but he also wanted to be able to play with his kids and get back to his yard work.
Christian noticed progress toward his goals each day. A key turning point was when he was put on the Zero G, a body weight supported treadmill, during his physical therapy session. Initially he needed a harness for support, then he progressed to not needing the harness. Christian also used an overhead walking track, and the Bioness L300, a lower extremity orthotic with electrical stimulation. “The first time Christian walked without a harness on the Tollos, we gave him cues as to which leg to use – right or left. When he found his rhythm, he cried tears of joy, as did his wife,” said Lisa, a physical therapist.
Christian had been told at the acute care hospital that he would never walk again.
His occupational therapist shared that Christian was in a lot of pain but it didn’t stop him from trying his best in therapy. He progressed in self-care, including feeding himself, which brought on big smiles.
Christian’s wife and family played a large role in his recovery. Christian’s first language was Spanish, but his wife Graciela is bilingual and was part of every single of his therapy sessions, translating and encouraging him to do his absolute best. “Graciela has helped me a lot and has trained to learn how to help me at home after discharge,” said Christian. His other family members also came to train on how to help him transfer in and out of a car using the hospital’s car transfer equipment.
After nearly a month at UF Health Rehabilitation Hospital, Christian had shown great progress in feeding, grooming and dressing the top of his body. While he still requires assistance for dressing his lower body, bathing, getting in and out of bed and walking, Christian only needs the help of one person instead of two.
Christian was incredibly grateful for his occupational and physical therapists who motivated and encouraged him to continue on.
Christian plans to continue his recovery with outpatient therapy at home in Georgia so that he can achieve his ultimate goal of walking again. He says that many people believe that he is a miracle having made the progress that he did in a relatively short period of time.
Christian said that his recovery journey taught him to never give up. He believes that people facing similar challenges should “pray to God to take you to your goals and stay focused and strong. Do what you can do because there will be bad days, but there will also be good days. Continue to fight through the bad days for your kids, your husband or wife, or your mom and dad.”