RVH’s rehab team gets man back into the game of life

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Cliff Robinson played too many games of golf. Or that’s what the avid golfer thought when his shoulder began giving him grief.

Very soon a little shoulder ache developed into unbearable pain and resulted in a visit to Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre’s  (RVH) Emergency department. That was on a Saturday; by Tuesday, Cliff had lost mobility in his legs and was having trouble walking.

A golf injury this was not.

CT and MRI tests confirmed the 59-year-old Barrie man had sustained an incomplete spinal cord injury due to a spinal staph infection and the prognosis looked grim.

“My option at this point was surgery which, if successful, would clean out the infection or I could be paralyzed from the waist down,” says Cliff.

Surgery took place in a Toronto hospital and Robinson woke up to good news and bad news. The infection was gone, but he was paralyzed.

“I did get a little despondent at that time and did the whole, ‘Why me?’ and  ‘This sucks’ thing, but then you realize life goes on and you have to get moving.”

And he did.  He moved his big toe. That was a sign of things to come. First there was a three-month stay at a rehabilitation centre in Toronto. When Cliff was discharged from the centre, he was using a wheelchair, but was told he would never walk again.

Now back home in Barrie, Cliff was referred to RVH’s Day Rehabilitation Program. That’s when the highly-skilled, multi-disciplinary team stepped up to the plate.

Cliff says he will never forget the day he met the team that would give him back his life, nor the words that were spoken to him on that first day.

“Nina (Martin) the physiotherapists was assessing me and as we went through some exercises she turned to me and said, ‘I think we have a shot here. I think you will walk again,’ ” says Robinson.

Those words made Robinson break down in tears.

“She was pretty optimistic and it was the first time someone other than my family was as equally positive about my recovery. It was so nice to hear.”

So began his year-long journey at RVH, where he was subsequently seen by physiotherapists Jay Meredith, Nina Martin, Therese Pedlow (pool therapy) and Kelly McCrae, as well as Susan Travanut (occupational therapist), and rehabilitation assistants Dani Ashberry and Nicole Percival with support of RN Jan Neale.

Three times a week they met and worked on his progress. Most times they made progress, sometimes they didn’t, but each time Cliff got an honest assessment of his recovery.

“They were super encouraging to me, but at the same time always genuinely assessing how I was doing. It was an incredible team effort. I can’t say enough.”

Cliff has gone from wheelchair, to walker to crutches in one year. The man who was not supposed to walk again did indeed walk.

Cliff’s RVH journey ended with a dance with Nina to the Beatles “Hey Jude”.

“I never dreamed I’d be doing that – it was wondrous. All the other patients were watching and I think it was inspirational for them because when we finished they applauded,” says Cliff. “This rehab team is both compassionate and professional. They were lifesavers – what I mean by that is they allowed me to regain a certain quality of life. I find that statement so trite though, because it doesn’t begin to cover what they did for me.”

Today, Cliff, with the constant support of his wife Louise, performs daily exercises to strengthen and improve his mobility. He was able to finally walkto the backyard to play with his two granddaughters and with another grandchild on the way, he has his sights set on taking the whole gang to Disney World.

And oddly, golfing doesn’t really matter anymore.