Ben at SkyRise Chicago

Patient Story

Ben Surpasses Expectations and Climbs to the Top of the World


Ben doesn’t remember the day in August 2021 when he nearly lost his life to a sudden cardiac arrest. He had just graduated college and moved to Chicago for his first job. The former college athlete was just 22 years old, worked out every day and was in seemingly perfect health until he collapsed during a run on Chicago’s Riverwalk. 

He spent six weeks in acute care, much of it in the cardio intensive-care unit. He fought life-threatening complications, including multiple organ system failure, and was on advanced life support (ECMO).  Ben also suffered a brain injury caused by lack of oxygen to the brain.

He faced discouraging odds: fewer than 10% of people who experience a sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital survive. His family knew that, even if he did survive, he might not have much brain function.

Ben came to Shirley Ryan AbilityLab 50 pounds lighter, unable to stand, walk, or even hold his head up. 

Despite his weakened state, Ben reached a major milestone on his first day of inpatient therapy. With the assistance of an overhead body-weight-support harness, Ben took six wobbly steps with the help of his physical therapist. He took 20 more the following day.

A little over a month later, Ben transferred to DayRehab, where he participated in intensive therapy for six hours a day, five days a week. It was exhausting, but Ben, always very determined, felt grateful to be alive and wanted to make the most of the second chance he had been given.

He continued to improve and regularly surpassed the goals set by his care team in physical, occupational and speech therapy. After six months at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, Ben returned home to Michigan, able to engage in any physical exercise he chose.

Just 15 months after his cardiac arrest and following hundreds of hours of rehabilitation, Ben participated in his first SkyRise Chicago, climbing the 105 floors of Willis Tower and fundraising to help other patients get the same exceptional care he received. Ben raised more money for Shirley Ryan AbilityLab than any other climber in 2022.

He took on the challenge a second time in 2023, once again claiming the title of top fundraiser.

From his first shaky steps at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, to the 2,149 steps up the Willis Tower, Ben has surpassed expectations. Although he still struggles with short-term memory and executive function (higher-level cognitive skills like organizing, planning, or completing tasks) he has learned to adapt and adjust through ongoing cognitive rehabilitation therapy. He continues to make progress and looks forward to returning to work soon.

“I will always be extremely grateful for the excellent therapy I received at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab,” said Ben. “My success and recovery are due to the amazing staff of professionals at both the inpatient hospital and Streeterville DayRehab. I benefited greatly from these caring and skilled experts who worked with me and provided encouragement every step of the way.”

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