Quadriplegic Chris O’Brien Treats Rehab Like Swim Practice

Chris O'Brien's motto in life is "StaySteadyStuntin" which means to stay awesome.

Chris O’Brien’s motto in life is “StaySteadyStuntin” which means to stay awesome.

Editor’s Note: In high school, Chris O’Brien of Trumbull, Connecticut, was one of the best swimmers in the county. After graduation, he joined the swim team at College of Charleston in South Carolina and quickly climbed the ranks his freshman year. When he wasn’t studying, he was in the pool training. He never would have believed that his love for swimming would almost cost him his life. Part 4 of a 5 part series.

Chris O’Brien had a terrible accident. He shattered his C5 vertebra and cracked his C4 vertebra. He had surgery to stabilize his spine and was about to begin rehabilitation. “I went to Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, Connecticut, 40 minutes from my home. This hospital was a center for spinal-cord injury and stroke patients.” O’Brien, an athlete, was accustomed to training hard. However, rehab was an altogether different physical challenge. He hadn’t used his muscles in 8 weeks, the strength he once had was now gone, and he was paralyzed. “There really wasn’t much I could do when I first got to rehab,” O’Brien says. “I couldn’t even lift my arms. We worked nonstop every day, and I fought to get all the function back that I possibly could. I looked at rehab like a practice session at the swimming pool, because I knew that if I wasn’t doing rehab, I’d be pushing hard to shave time off the 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter freestyle events. I was accustomed to the discipline and to pushing my body to perform. Mentally, I understood I was still training, but I was training to make my body work better and not to swim faster.”

Chris decided to give rehab everything he had.

Chris decided to give rehab everything he had.

Because he was an athlete, O’Brien knew how to push past pain and expected to see results quickly. But in rehab, results often don’t come quickly, and he became frustrated. “Sometimes, working really hard and seeing little or no success was difficult to deal with, but I kept trying over and over to do what was asked of me, until I could finally figure out how to do what the therapist wanted me to do.”

Chris worked hard at rehab.

Chris worked hard at rehab.

Another problem O’Brien faced was being sick. He had to deal with urinary-tract infections, kidney infections and bed sores. “I was really having a lot to deal with besides trying to get my body to work,” O’Brien remembers. “But I was able to regain function in my arms. I could use my deltoid muscles, raise my arm up to the side and forward and backward. I regained function in my bicep, but wasn’t able to gain any function in my triceps muscles. I only could bend my left wrist upward, and had no function from my wrist forward in my right hand. I never got any finger function back. I was somewhat disappointed that after 3 months, that was all the function I regained. I honestly thought that within 3 months, I’d be ready to go back to college and rejoin my swim team. I really had a difficult time when I realized that it would take more than 3 months.”

To learn more about Chris O’Brien, visit his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/ChrisOBriensDeterminationPage?ref=ts

Next: Chris O’Brien’s Fight and Future Plans

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at http://www.nighthawkpublications.com

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