Photo of  Tural Erel by Brian O'Mahoney of the Pioneer Press

Patient Story

Swimmer Learns to Walk Again after Beach Accident

Posted By Meg Washburn

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Tural Erel's parents got the call about 6 a.m. that their son was in a beach accident. They drove to the Evanston Hospital and when they saw him, he was scared.

"'Mommy, I cannot feel my body,'" his mother Sapho recalled her son saying.

"Of course, the emotions are horrific," she added.

Tural Erel had shattered his C5 vertebra and the initial diagnosis from Dr. Ricky Wong "was just very dire," Turhan Erel said. The doctor told them instead of emergency surgery, which would typically be done in this scenario, he wanted to wait for the swelling to decrease. Delaying surgery was risky, but so was operating right away with a chance to cause permanent damage, Turhan Erel said.

It was a painful wait for Tural Erel, who had high doses of steroids to reduce the inflammation. He woke up with panic attacks.

"The best thing we could do is literally just touch him and comb his hair to calm him down," Turhan Erel said. "We had to improvise how to comfort our child."

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Tural Erel with RIC Therapist
Tural Erel works with physical therapist Brittany Franklin at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago on Jan. 12 in Northbrook. (Brian O'Mahoney / Pioneer Press)

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Doctors waited four days before performing the surgery, in which the fractured bone was removed and the C4 and C6 vertebrae were fused together. Tural Erel was paralyzed from the neck down for two weeks. The spinal cord was damaged but not completely severed. After surgery, Tural Erel would feel tingling or sharp pain in his arms when he was touched. That gave them all hope, Sapho Erel said, because the nerves weren't dead.

"Honestly, it's … kind of just luck, I guess you could say," Tural Erel said. "And I guess, a miracle, as my mom would say, that it wasn't totally damaged."

He was in the ICU at the Evanston Hospital for about a week. Each night, there were 15 to 20 students there to support Tural Erel, according to his parents. Some nights there were upwards of 35 guests. It was that support and positive attitudes that helped the recovery, Turhan Erel said.

From there, Tural Erel was transferred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in downtown Chicago, where he stayed for in-patient care and therapy for nearly three months.

The temporary home at the rehab facility was a basic hospital room. Every greeting card he received was taped up to a wall, and the wall was covered. He also had a bunch of posters decorating the room.

"The walls were just totally covered with stuff," Tural Erel said.

On a typical day, he'd go through therapy from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a one-hour lunch break. He'd get a nap in and have dinner with his mom, who stayed with him most nights. Turhan Erel and Tural Erel's sister, Zeynep, would visit, too, spending two hours on the road just to be with Tural Erel for even 30 minutes.

To read the rest of Tural's story, visit the Chicago Tribune

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