When Dedication and Perseverance Pay Off
After sustaining a spinal cord injury, Chris Bailey has made it his job to regain as much function as he can.
In September 2021, Chris Bailey started taking steps with a platform walker. By Thanksgiving Day, he could feed himself. And on Christmas Eve, he took a few steps on a rolling walker.
Achieving these milestones – which were not likely after he sustained a C-3/C-4 incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI) and was paralyzed from the neck down – are in part due to the hard work and perseverance Chris has shown in the last year and a half during his rehabilitation. It’s a journey that began on January 30, 2021 – while at a hunting camp near his home in Jackson, Alabama – when a utility task vehicle (UTV) he was riding in skidded off the trail and hit a tree. After the impact, he instantly felt a wave of paralysis traveling down his body.
“I knew it was serious,” Chris says. “I couldn’t move and I was having trouble breathing.”
Chris, a personal injury attorney in Jackson, was taken to a local hospital before transferring by ambulance to University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital three-and-a-half hours away.
His wife, Suzanne (Suzy), got the phone call no one wants to receive in the middle of the night, telling her that Chris had been injured. At that point – and for the next 12 days – doctors were uncertain that Chris would survive. He was placed on a ventilator with a tube down his throat, which made him unable to speak. He communicated with Suzy by blinking his eyes.
Suzy, always the planner, made finding the next step – rehabilitation – a priority.
After hearing about Shepherd Center from two close friends, she worked to get him into the hospital’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program. The only movement Chris had below his neck occurred the day before leaving Birmingham for Shepherd Center when his right thumb moved while Suzy held his hand.
When he arrived at Shepherd Center on February 12, 2021, he was greeted by hospital Co-Founder Alana Shepherd, who gave him these words of encouragement: “Welcome to Shepherd Center. We’re going to take good care of you.”
“That’s when I knew I would live,” Chris says.
Slowly, as he worked in therapy every day, some movement returned to his fingers, toes, and feet. Though it wasn’t as fast as he would’ve liked, he made steady progress and he and Suzy took any movement as a good sign. He believes a positive attitude has been the key to his improvement.
“I have always been a hard-headed person,” Chris admits. “But after this happened, a calm came over me. I had to wrap my mind around the reality that I couldn’t do anything about what had happened in the past, and that helped me focus on what was ahead. You just have to have hope and faith that things will continue to improve in the future.”
And things did continue to improve. He was able to transition from a wheelchair controlled by head movements to one that he could control with his right hand. After 10 weeks of inpatient therapy and another 10 weeks in the SCI Day Program at Shepherd, Chris was discharged home. He resumed therapy in Mobile last August where he’s made great progress. Because of those improvements, he was able to return to Shepherd Center’s Day Program in April this year for additional therapy where he progressed enough to begin walking with forearm crutches.
“I am truly grateful to all the staff and therapists at Shepherd Center,” Chris says. “I would not be where I am today without them.”
While Chris’ story is one of dedication and perseverance, it’s also a heartwarming story of love and devotion. Suzy, also an attorney, gave up her legal career to become his full-time caregiver and has been his constant source of support. She stayed with him in his hospital room at Shepherd Center, cared for him when they lived in family housing while in the Day Program, and she now keeps up his care at home. Every morning, she stretches out his body, gets him out of bed, bathes and dresses him, and gets him ready for the day. They still make the three-hour round trip drive to Mobile four days a week for therapy, where he continues to improve.
The couple believes that the 24/7 togetherness has actually made their marriage stronger.
“I wouldn’t change anything for the closeness we have and the strong bond that has developed,” Suzy says. “We take it day by day and stay in the moment. It’s been a slow process but he has made incredible progress.”
In the future, Chris would love to return to practicing law. But for now, they take it one milestone at a time. Chris and Suzy returned to Shepherd Center in September for 12 weeks at Beyond Therapy®.
“The life we have is not what we had expected,” Chris says, “but we have faith that our future, although different, will be even better than what we had planned.”
Written by Sara Baxter
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.