Kyle S.

Patient Story

Kyle’s Story: From Rehabilitation Hospital Worker to Patient

Posted By Megan Washburn


Kyle S. was living an active life in Bloomington, Ind., and working as a food service manager at a local rehabilitation hospital. Little did he know that he would soon be a patient at another rehabilitation hospital — Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

One day while on the job, Kyle, 50, lost consciousness and fell off of a ladder. “At least that’s what people tell me,” he said. “I don’t remember it happening!”

Kyle woke up in the intensive care unit of a local hospital. He had been intubated and was paralyzed from the neck down, told he would never walk again. His wife and sister-in-law researched rehabilitation hospitals, learned Shirley Ryan AbilityLab was ranked no. 1 and knew it was the best place for his recovery.

“When I arrived at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, my goal was to prove my earlier doctors wrong — to show them I’m not going to settle,” he said.

He quickly found that his resolve was matched by that of his therapists.


Kyle arrived on a ventilator and unable to speak. Through intensive speech therapy, his speech-language pathologist (SLP), Callie Wilbat, MS, CCC-SLP, helped him find his voice. Additionally, after completing swallowing exercises, a video swallow study and meal observations, Kyle, who initially was not cleared to eat or drink, was able to return to a regular diet without any restrictions. 

At first, Kyle had no active movement in his upper extremities. In occupational therapy (OT), he worked with Kate Soens, MS, OTR/L, CLT, to relearn how to engage in everyday activities, such as eating, brushing his teeth and dressing. He also participated in upper-extremity electrical stimulation to strengthen his muscles and slowly began moving his hands, wrist and arms. OT assistive technology sessions helped him engage in phone use and communication.

His physical therapists had him up and walking on a treadmill with a harness early in his stay. At first, they moved his legs for him, and he could only go for 10 minutes at a time.

In the midst of his inpatient stay, he participated in two research studies, including one that tested nerve connectivity in his arms.

Six months after arriving at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, Kyle prepared to go home after making incredible gains. He went from being fully dependent for all mobility to being able to walk with a walker for more than 100 feet. He learned how to drive a power wheelchair with his arms to allow for increased independence. He also gained significant movement in his arms and hands, enabling him to engage in everyday tasks.

After having a diaphragm pacemaker placed, he worked with Callie, his SLP, to increase his respiratory muscle strength and endurance. As a result, he began to take breaks from his ventilator — up to eight hours a day. For the first time since the accident, he was able to breathe through his nose and mouth.

“Kyle’s tremendous gains are not typically experienced in people with his level of injury who are on a ventilator,” said Jonathan Ripic, PT, DPT, NCS, his physical therapist. “Yet, Kyle continually beat the odds, bringing his positive attitude and relentless work ethic to every therapy session.”

Kyle is grateful for his time at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, and acknowledges his unique perspective given his professional experience.

“Having worked at a rehabilitation hospital, I always liked feeling like I was part of patients’ recoveries,” he said. “Here, I could tell everyone, regardless of their role, cares and works together so that patients get better.”

Now that Kyle is back home, he’s looking ahead, and will soon begin outpatient therapy in his community.

“I want to keep working hard and making progress,” he said. “I want to get as much of my function back as possible.”

In the future, he hopes to travel to California to meet his new nephew and even to write a memoir.

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