The initial prognosis was grim. Nancy Seger, who was 57 at the time of her accident, would be wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life. In the back of her mind, however, she didn’t believe it. Fiercely determined and full of life, Nancy always had a goal of returning to independence, even when things seemed at their worst.
It all started when Nancy was breaking in a new colt on the cattle ranch she and her husband owned in central Arizona. A wasp stung the horse, and it bucked her off. One of Nancy’s vertebrae hit the cantle of the saddle and landed face first. Miraculously, her husband heard her cries for help and she was airlifted to one of the top neurological hospitals in the area. Getting immediate and appropriate medical care—that was the good news. The bad news was the subsequent diagnosis: spinal cord injury resulting in paraplegia. She underwent surgery and inpatient medical treatment followed by six weeks of inpatient rehabilitation. At that point, one of her caregivers suggested the Rehab Without Walls® day treatment program in Phoenix.
“I picked it without even seeing the facility,” Nancy says. “I just had a sense that Rehab Without Walls could offer me more of an independence than other programs.” Nancy also liked that someone from the facility could pick her up and take her to the day treatment program (140 miles away from their ranch), which allowed her husband—who had remained by her side while she was hospitalized—to work at the ranch.
“I went into Rehab Without Walls with the attitude that everyone was there to help me, so I worked very hard,” she says. “The real turning point, however, was when I shared my fears with my physical therapist about falling during transfers to and from my wheelchair. I asked her what would happen if I fell and she basically knocked me down. When I got myself up and pulled together, I knew I’d walk again.” The next day, Nancy’s PT borrowed crutches and, wearing gait belts and with the support of people on either side and behind her, Nancy walked 10 feet. “I was sweating like a pig and we were all crying like babies, but I did it.”
From that moment on, Nancy’s progress moved steadily forward. When she began having serious balance problems, the team put her walker in her mother-in-law’s pool and had her practice walking in that environment instead. “I stayed in so long that we were pruny, but we got it,” says Nancy. “Then I figured out how to get in and out of the pool by myself so I went out every night and doubled the amount of exercise my team had recommended to build stamina.”
This combination of determination on Nancy’s part and dedication on the part of her Rehab Without Walls team has allowed Nancy to return to life on her own terms. Today, she can walk up to 40 feet with no assistance; she wears articulated orthotics, a type of leg brace, and at times requires a cane. An artist, she makes crafts, particularly Christmas items and gifts, and exhibits them at craft shows across the region.
Of course there were setbacks, including a second horse accident that resulted in a knee fracture and the development of a cyst between two vertebrae. Along the way she weaned herself off of the most serious pain medications because she felt they were numbing her body and she couldn’t feel where she was having return sensation. “I wanted to feel the pain, because that told me where I was having return, and I could work with that,” she says.
Nancy also has made a point to share her experiences with others and makes frequent visits to the rehabilitation unit at the local VA hospital on a Segway. “I tell them if they can stand on a Segway, they can be independent and have mobility. I use myself as an example. I was supposed to be in a wheelchair the rest of my life, yet here I am. I just want them to know that ‘they can.’ If it happened for me it can happen for them.” Each year, Nancy returns to the Phoenix office of Rehab Without Walls. “My team members were my best friends. They pushed me beyond my goals and pushed my limitations and I am forever grateful. They are bright lights in my life.”