On a crisp Saturday in February 2009, 67-year-old Phil Stefanich gathered with friends at a cottage in Grayling to go cross-country skiing.
“I was just skiing along, enjoying the scenery, when my skis got away from me,” Phil says. “I flipped up into the air, came down flat on my back and my head whiplashed.”
Phil knew he was paralyzed, but remained calm. Taken out of the woods on a snowmobile by emergency workers, he was flown to Covenant Hospital in Saginaw. A doctor there told his family that it was possible he would never walk again. Phil underwent surgery the following day.
Phil says, “The doctor said I was millimeters away from being a Christopher Reeve. My diagnosis was ‘cervical 4 incomplete.’ That meant it was possible I would be able to use my arms and legs again.”
When it came time for Phil to be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital, the staff at Covenant recommended Mary Free Bed.
“My family objected — they thought I should go closer to home,” Phil says. “But I had become friends with a fellow ex-Marine at the hospital, and he said, ‘Phil, Marine to Marine, go to Mary Free Bed,’ and it was a done deal.”
Phil remained at Mary Free Bed for the next three months under the care of Dr. Sam Ho, medical director of MFB’s Spinal Cord Injury Program. With what he describes as exceptional care, he worked hard to rehabilitate himself.
“Dr. Ho and his staff. . . are esteemed professionals and the reason Mary Free Bed is recognized as one of the top hospitals in the U.S.,” Phil says. “He came every morning to ask me how I was doing.”
Today, Phil lives in an apartment, on his own. He cooks, grocery shops, drives, exercises regularly at a fitness center and works part-time. It’s all possible, he says, because of his stay at Mary Free Bed.
“I was dropped off in heaven,” he says, “and surrounded by angels.”