It was just another carefree summer afternoon … until it wasn’t.
Kori and Greg, North Carolina residents, got a call that no parents ever want to receive: Their 15-year-old daughter, Jasper, had fallen 40 feet during climbing camp in a small Virginia town.
“I could sense urgency and panic in the voice of the person who told me,” said Greg. “I knew it was pretty bad, and I asked that he try to keep her conscious.”
Transport to the trauma center became a four-hour ordeal. After being packaged at the site of the fall, Jasper was carried a mile out to a waiting ambulance. Then, she was driven to a landing area for the helicopter ride to the trauma center.
A Prognosis of Permanent Paralysis
Jasper, an avid and experienced climber, had shattered both ankles and wrists, and had sustained severe injury to a large section of her spine. She went through three major surgeries in the first 24 hours. “When the neurosurgeon came out, he told us she would never walk again,” said Greg.
Jasper was in acute care, much of it in the ICU, for a month and a half. She was healing, but still not allowed to put any weight on her legs and feet. “They told us we’d have to take her home because she no longer qualified for acute care,” said Greg. He and Kori began researching rehabilitation facilities. “Because Jasper didn’t have weight-bearing status, we were turned down by 16 or 17.”
“Shirley Ryan AbilityLab popped up early and often as the premier facility for Jasper’s type of injury,” he said. “The people we spoke with there were intrigued, not daunted, by Jasper’s unique challenges. They wanted to try to help her. They also sent a representative to Jasper’s bedside to discuss what we needed and what they could offer. The personal interaction told us a lot about the type of care Jasper would get.”
Intensive Therapy to Meet Evolving Needs
In early August, Jasper was air-lifted to Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and began with two weeks of intensive inpatient therapy. “The hospital felt like a spaceship,” she said. “Huge, colorful, cool equipment. I thought, ‘I got this, and these people are here to help me.’”
Despite not having weight-bearing clearance, her multidisciplinary clinical team wasted no time. During three daily therapy sessions, they focused on two major areas: core strength and everyday activities that she would need to be able to do without standing.
“At first, sitting up made me feel like I was going to pass out,” Jasper said. “From there, I learned how to get dressed, transfer into and out of a wheelchair, a bed, chair and car. In OT, I worked on pinching and grabbing.”
She was healing faster than expected. “Jasper has always been an athlete; her fitness and determination were huge advantages,” said Kori.
Just three and a half months after her injury, Jasper transitioned into Shirley Ryan AbilityLab DayRehab, which involves half- or full-day outpatient therapy sessions. She finally got clearance to try bearing weight. “On that first day, I stood up!” said Jasper.
“Everyone was cheering, hugging and crying,” Kori said. “That sense of community makes Shirley Ryan AbilityLab special. Our hearts overflow with gratitude for this place.”
“Not too long after, I was walking, doing stairs,” said Jasper. “Today, I walked 40 minutes on the treadmill, practiced on a balance beam and worked on heel-toe stepping. It’s wild.”
Jasper was able to get home to North Carolina for Christmas. There, she continues outpatient therapy.
She says she’s only looking forward. “One of my big goals is to be able to do whatever I want and not have my injuries stop me — soccer, swimming … just regain that ability and confidence.”
She’s also considering becoming a physical therapist. “I’m so grateful to my therapists; they changed my life,” she said. “I really like the idea that I could do that for someone else.”