Believe in a Way Back from SCI: Donna’s Story

June 2, 2014 started out as an ordinary day for real estate agent Donna Bilo.  She was on a home inspection with a buyer when she sustained a fall down the stairs and hit her head.  She remained conscious but could not feel her arms and legs.  Donna was rushed to the hospital where she was diagnosed with a broken neck.  The 4th and 5th cervical vertebrae were fractured, and she was placed on a ventilator to assist her breathing.  Donna recalls being in ICU and having a rough medical course those first three weeks in acute care.

By the end of the month, Donna was stable enough to start inpatient therapy at Magee, where she spent the next five months.

“I can’t say enough about the wonderful therapists,” Donna says.  Strength began to return in her arms and legs. “I remember how excited I was when I finally was able to put my contact lens in with the help of my OT, Jacquie Fox.”

Donna utilized the specialized equipment at Magee including Locomotor Training and the Vector to put weight through her legs, improve the strength in her trunk, and begin to take steps.  “By the time I left Magee I was walking with the help of four people.”

In November 2014, Donna started at Magee Riverfront in the outpatient Day Rehab program.  She was in the program only a few weeks when she had a setback: she fractured her ankle when she hit something while driving her power wheelchair.

Donna Bilo using the RT200 electrical stimulation bike at Magee Riverfront’s Wellness Center

“I still couldn’t feel my ankle, so I didn’t know how badly I hurt it,” Donna recalls.

Her ankle injury required surgery, so Donna was out of therapy for three months while she healed.  When she returned to Magee Riverfront in April 2015, she couldn’t stand.  Donna didn’t let that setback dampen her spirit.  She worked hard to regain what she lost and beyond.  Donna continued therapy as part of the NeuroRecovery Network program.  She received daily electrical stimulation to the muscles in her arms and did body weight supported walking over a treadmill.  She credits these therapies for helping her significantly improve her trunk control.

Last September, Donna’s physical therapist, Melania Dieterick, encouraged her to stop using her power wheelchair.  Donna transitioned to the Wellness Program at the Riverfront and began walking into the facility with a rolling walker.  She says she doesn’t use her wheelchair at home at all anymore, and she continues to make gains.

Donna also attended Magee’s Gaining Ground program: a four-week “boot camp” that includes one-on-one sessions with a physical therapist and a trainer aimed at improving function of people with spinal cord injury and other neurological injuries.  She says she can’t wait to do the program again.  Donna gained confidence, and this summer she used portable grab bars while on vacation, allowing her to stand in the shower instead of using a shower chair.  “It has been small steps, but they add up.”

Always by her side is her husband, Ron, also known as “Bear”.  Donna credits her success to her incredible family support at home as well as her new family at Magee.

“I’m lucky.  I have had a lot of lousy days, but the hard work has been worth it.  I know Magee brought me this far,” Donna says.

Donna is thrilled that she is again watching her four-year-old granddaughter, Charlotte, who was just six months old at the time of her injury.  Donna is always working on new goals.  Currently she is conquering using crutches to walk and go up and down the stairs.  Donna’s next goal: “I want to drive, although my husband says he won’t ride with me!”

Your Magee family believes in you, Donna!

To learn more about the Spinal Cord Injury Program at Magee, click here

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