Hi, my name is Mitch Murphy and I am 25 years old. On June 4, 2011, I was out having drinks with friends at a second-floor pub I had frequented before, but that night’s visit changed my life forever. As I began down the stairs, my sandal turned under, causing me to trip, lose my balance, and fall over the railing, 22-feet straight down onto carpeted concrete. After being stabilized at a local hospital, I was airlifted to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio.
The injuries I sustained as a result of this fall are so extensive that it is difficult for me to sum them up, but here is a list of the most devastating ones: I fractured my skull in two places, fractured three vertebrae (T9, T12, and L2), lost my senses of smell and taste, fractured a bone in my ear, and suffered extensive bleeding in my brain. My traumatic brain injury (TBI) included a life-threatening subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), or bleeding into the area surrounding the brain, and a life threatening subdural hematoma (SDH). My spinal cord injury (SCI) included a hairline fracture of my T9, a shattered T12 and a fractured L2, for which I underwent close to 6 hours of surgery to reconstruct my T12 and remove the numerous bone fragments that were lodged in my spinal cord. Screws were placed in my T9 and T12, and the neurosurgeon fused my vertebrae from T11 down to L3 using titanium rods to stabilize my spine.
After my spinal surgery, I spent 2 weeks in the intensive care unit (ICU), while my brain was monitored for swelling. There was an initial belief that I would have to have part of my skull removed to allow the swelling in my brain to subside, but fortunately the swelling didn’t reach that critical level. In ICU, I became agitated every time I started to “awake,” removing my catheter and attempting to rip out any of the medical tubes/lines attached, so I was kept restrained and heavily drugged with propofol and fentanyl. This drugged state interfered with my ability to respond to doctors appropriately, so they weren’t certain of the extent of my TBI until much later in my hospital stay. I contracted pneumonia in ICU, for which I wore a respiratory vest to keep my lungs clear, and diabetes (from the feeding tube formula); had to have insulin injections and blood transfusions; and developed a severe infection, requiring heavy antibiotics.
I was moved to a critical care step-down unit, where I stayed for 5 days, until I was finally transferred to the hospital’s TBI unit. My tracheotomy was removed soon after I arrived in the TBI unit, and I began “brain rehabilitation,” with daily speech, occupational, and physical therapies. Once I was able to speak again, I explained the mystery of why I couldn’t communicate in writing: I was not able to see correctly; the fracture to my occipital lobe caused me to see double. After 3 weeks on that floor, I was finally moved to the hospital’s SCI unit, where I began an “intense physical therapy” program. On this floor, respiratory therapy continued with small handheld device; however, it was not until then that I was told I had broken ribs, which explained the pain/discomfort I was experiencing during all prior and current respiratory therapy treatments.
My parents moved nearly 1,300 miles—from Nova Scotia, Canada, to Cleveland, Ohio—to take care of me and help with my recovery. The SCI left me paralyzed from the waist down. At speech therapy, I rapidly regained my cognitive abilities, and throughout physical rehabilitation, my mobility also began to progress. Sadly, the primary focus of the hospital’s rehabilitation program was to teach me how to live in a wheelchair, something I am working hard against. From the moment I woke up my goal was, and still is, to work as hard as I can to fully recover and walk again.
Once I was finally discharged from MetroHealth, August 17, 2011, my family and I spent several months battling what everyone believed were recurrent UTI’s, but in actuality turned out to be neurogenic (overactive) bladder. In December, my doctor did a volume test on my bladder and determined that was the problem, not infections. Finally, I got some relief from the bladder problems that had plagued me since August. Also after discharge from the hospital, I continued going to all 3 therapies as an outpatient for almost a year. My father built a few exercise tools, from instructions my therapist provided, so I could also work out at home. With motivation and my parents’ help, I repeated those physical therapy exercises at home and increased my recovery.
A little about my life before the accident: I was born in Toronto, Ontario; spent the first seven years of my life in Nova Scotia; and, in 1995, moved with my family to North Carolina. Throughout high school, I was always involved in sports (soccer, tennis and track), took academics seriously, and was really involved in helping others. I was president of my school’s Key Club and elected to the executive board of the Carolina’s District Key Club, where I put my web development skills to use. My senior year, I won an international scholarship from Microsoft for a project that I had proposed and implemented for the Carolina’s District Key Club, and also won a national scholarship from Apple for a project utilizing Apple technology in the classroom. I received various scholarships from several universities where I planned to pursue computer science, and in the end chose to attend Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
During the summer before the beginning of junior year, I did research at the Case Center for Proteomics and Bioinformatics, and it was at the end of that summer that I realized I was truly passionate about combining computer science and biology. I continued doing this research for the next couple years and came to the conclusion that I wanted to further my education, particularly in the new field of computational biology. When I fell and my life changed forever, I only had a few classes left to take before graduating and was excited to embark on the next chapter of my life in graduate school. Only 6 months after my fall, I was adamant about taking those remaining classes, and did, graduating from Case less than a year after my injury.
While I was still a patient at MetroHealth, my mother discovered Project Walk on-line, and fortunately for my family, they had a center in Orlando, Florida, near where my older sister and her family live. Project Walk is a non-profit organization, providing extensive exercise-based therapy for those with spinal cord injuries. They believe that continued therapy results in continuous recovery for those with SCI’s. My therapists in Cleveland felt they had reached the end of their sessions with me, so we made the decision to move to Florida. We arrived in October, 2012, and I had my initial assessment at Project Walk in November. I started regular weekly sessions, to continue my recovery, in December, 2012. Unfortunately, insurance does not cover any costs associated with therapy at Project Walk, where therapy is expensive—about $100 per hour—so my family and I have had to raise funds through donations from friends and family so I can continue to attend sessions.
Since starting at Project Walk Orlando (only about 6 months ago), my progress has been unbelievable. Initially, paralysis not only prevents you from voluntarily contracting muscles below your level of injury, but also from feeling anything below that site. Before attending PWO, I had obtained decent motor control and feeling in my right quad (thigh), but no motor control and very little feeling in my left quad, as well as zero motor control or feeling everywhere below my knees. After working hard these past 6-7 months—giving 110% every time I go to PWO—motor control in both my hamstrings has returned, as well as dorsiflexion and plantar flexion in both feet; I can move toes on both feet; I can fully lock my right knee; and quad control in my left leg has begun to return, as well as feeling in both glutes (just this first week of July, 2013). Additionally, my workouts at PWO have strengthened my right quad, lower back and abs, triceps, biceps, and chest, and I’ve been doing gait training at home along with my usual workouts. I regularly update my personal website, at www.mitchsprogress.org, with videos to keep track of my progress.
I really need additional funding to achieve my goal of walking again, and am thankful for every donation, no matter how small, so that I can continue my recovery. Thank you all!