Spinal Cord Injury Recovery: The Will to Walk Again

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Where there’s a will, there’s a way.  That adage has special meaning to Daquan Minor, whose life was forever changed on the evening of February 9, 2013. A typical teenager, Daquan was hanging out after school with a group of friends at Summer Creek High School in Humble, Texas. “We were leaving the gym, it was nighttime and we hit a curve going too fast. The car flipped five times but everyone walked away from the accident — everyone except for me,” says Daquan.

Daquan suffered a fractured skull and what’s called a T6 incomplete spinal cord injury; he pinched his spinal cord between the 6th and 7th thoracic vertebra causing paralysis from the middle of his stomach down to his toes. That night nobody knew just how much motor and sensory function Daquan would regain, if any, but for Daquan there was only one question that really mattered, would he ever walk again?

On the road to recovery.

After the accident, Daquan spent three weeks in the neuroscience intensive care unit in the Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center before being transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann for rehabilitation. When he arrived he still had no movement or feeling in his legs or toes.

Daquan team

“When I got to TIRR they offered me hope,” says Daquan. “Nobody was telling me I was going to walk again but nobody was telling me I wouldn’t, and that’s what kept me going.”

“The extent to which Daquan would recover was very much in question,” says Dr. Matthew Davis, clinical medical director, Spinal Cord Injury Program, TIRR Memorial Hermann and assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) at John P. and Katherine G. McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “Each spinal cord injury is different and I’ve seen enough of them to know that the outcomes can vary so you never want to take away a patient’s hope.”

Daquan spent a month in intense rehabilitation and during that time was fitted with a two-piece plastic brace that supported the spine from his chest to the base of his spine. The brace helped Daquan stand for the very first time since the accident.

Seeing is believing.

“My therapy was really hard, partly because of the brace and the restrictions it put on me but toward the end of my inpatient stay I was able to wiggle my toes,” says Daquan. “One day I was in therapy and the goal was just to stand up. I remember being in the harness, standing up and saying to myself I think I can take a few steps. And when I tried to take a step, it worked. I was able to walk! My therapist was even surprised.”

Daquan still has no feeling from the middle of his stomach to the tips of his toes, yet he’s able to walk short distances. “I have to really focus on the floor with my eyes and concentrate. Without the feeling in my legs it’s almost like my upper body is just floating,” says Daquan. “I need my eyes to be able to walk. If I’m walking and the room suddenly goes dark I’ll fall down.”

The fact Daquan is able to walk places him among a small minority of those who have suffered similar injuries. “What is unique about Daquan is how he has adapted to be able to walk again and the importance his eyes play in his ability to walk,” says Dr. Davis. “It requires intense concentration on his part. I would liken it to the kind of concentration required to walk a tight rope.”

Putting him on a better path.

“It sounds kind of crazy but the accident was really a blessing in disguise because I was heading down the wrong path in life,” says Daquan. “The accident and everything that has happened since, has helped me to become a better person.”

This past spring, as a senior on the TIRR Memorial Hermann Junior Hotwheels, Daquan helped lead the team to a National Wheelchair Basketball Association championship in Louisville, Kentucky.

After winning the national championship with the Hotwheels, Daquan went back to school to finish up his senior year. Like his classmates, Daquan walked across the stage to get his diploma. “It was incredible to be able to walk across the stage at graduation,” says Daquan. “It was better than prom.”

DaquanGraduation

Chosen for the Wall of Honor.

In late fall, Daquan joined an elite group at TIRR Memorial Hermann when his picture and his story were added to the Wall of Honor. The Wall of Honor serves as a reminder to patients and families what can be accomplished through hard work and determination and how TIRR Memorial Hermann is helping people redefine their lives after a life-altering injury or illness, including previous TIRR Memorial Hermann patients Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and NFL athlete Kevin Everett, to name just a few.

“Being on the Wall of Honor is special, it was like being inducted into the Hall of Fame,” says Daquan. “I never saw myself getting on that wall the first day I started rehab. As much as I wanted to walk again, I knew that I might not. The therapists and doctors here offered me hope because nobody ever told me ‘no’ when I said I wanted to walk again.”

Daquan is in his freshman year of college studying to become an occupational therapist. He also volunteers regularly at TIRR Memorial Hermann, paying back at the place that helped him start moving forward again.

Daquan volunteer

“He’s just a good kid who was presented with a challenge you would never want anyone to have to face,” says Dr. Davis. “He trusted us, our expertise and he did what we asked him to do to get better.”

Dr. Davis believes Daquan’s attitude and determination played a huge role in Daquan gaining the ability to walk again even if it’s just a few labored steps at a time. For Daquan, those few steps mark the beginning of his life moving forward again.

Click here for more information on Daquan and TIRR Memorial Hermann.

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