Every day, researchers, therapists, and clinicians across the Partners HealthCare System investigate rehabilitation techniques and practices aimed to improve our patients’ quality of life and increase mobility. One patient, Meredith Koch, continues to benefit from this integrated care.
Three years ago, just shy of her 25th birthday, Meredith’s life took an unexpected twist when a piano fell on her while being lifted from a truck. Diagnosed with an L-1 burst fracture and mid-sternum fracture, she underwent a nine-hour surgery that fused her spine and returned some function to her quad muscles, but could not restore her mobility. She remained paralyzed from the waist down.
Meredith spent the next month as an inpatient at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where she learned to grapple with both the boundaries and the possibilities of her new normal. Though she admits acceptance was her first challenge, it was adaptive cycling—one of the supportive treatment modalities offered as part of Spaulding rehabilitative care—that helped her turn a corner.
“It was the first glimmer of hope when I realized that being paralyzed didn’t have to change who I was, it simply changed how I would accomplish my goals,” Meredith says.
An article highlighting Spaulding physician and Paralympic athlete Cheri Blauwet, MD—who eventually became a mentor and friend—offered further inspiration. Today, Meredith has regained use of some muscles and nerves, and remains actively committed to her ongoing recovery. She’s added swimming and skiing to her adaptive sports lineup, and today is training for the 2020 Paralympics in swimming. She highlighted her return to sports and her career in health care in a TedxNewport talk advocating for inclusive design to support the one in five Americans with disabilities.
“I will not allow a piano to stop me from doing something I love,” Meredith notes. “It’s about getting from one end of the pool to the other—not the way we do it.”
Image via Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.