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Brandon McElhenie gets ‘stronger day by day’ after off-road vehicle crash, walks out doors at graduation

A female physical therapist and a male patient stand outside on a sunny day. The man holds a hula hoop for a black lab wearing an orange vest, to jump through. The woman wears an all-black uniform and a pink headband. The man wears a light blue T-shirt and white therapy belt, and grey shorts. Brandon McElhenie couldn’t wait to drive his new 2016 Yamaha YXZ1000R at Silver Lake Sand Dunes. A fan of cars, dirt bikes and ATVs since he was young, the 25-year-old Battle Creek resident was excited to take the side-by-side UTV (Utility Task Vehicle) for an off-road ride with friends.

Brandon, his girlfriend, Sara Roberts, and a group of friends headed for the dunes, located along Lake Michigan between Muskegon and Ludington, which attracts millions of visitors each year.

“It was April 8, the second weekend Silver Lake was open for the season,” he said.

He was driving near the south flats when he jumped a small hill, and the vehicle became airborne and flipped end-over-end. The cage collapsed, and Brandon sustained three fractured vertebrae in his neck. He was airlifted to Spectrum Health Hospital in Grand Rapids, where he underwent surgery.

When Brandon came to Mary Free Bed on April 13, “I couldn’t really do anything on my own,” he said.

He participated in extensive rehabilitation and slowly progressed, gaining strength and learning to do things all over again with guidance from Dr. Sam Ho, medical director of Mary Free Bed’s Spinal Cord Injury program, and his team of therapists and nurses. Support from Sara and their daughter, Anna, 3 – who stayed with Brandon in his room – was his biggest motivation, he said.

In this video, Brandon shares his rehabilitation journey and how his main goal to drive again turned into a goal to walk. And he did just that when he graduated July 20.

After a short break, Brandon will return to Mary Free Bed for outpatient therapy.

“My goal is to be able to functionally walk independently,” he said.

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