Man walks again after sustaining spinal cord damage from aortic aneurysm

Many of us have heard these kinds of motivational statements before. But when you experience a life changing event, these words take on a whole new meaning.

Randy Ribble, 64, was enjoying an ordinary evening in May when it took an unfortunate turn.

“I was settling in for the night, and of all of sudden I couldn’t breathe,” says Randy. “I was gasping for air.”

He knew it was something serious and told his wife to call 911. Randy passed out and doesn’t remember much of what happened in the following week.

Randy later learned he suffered an aortic aneurysm, which resulted in spinal cord damage because of the lack of oxygen to his nerves. He was told there was a slim chance he could ever walk again. However, it was hard to comprehend what was going on because he was in a fog from heavy medications.

“They told me I was just lucky to be alive,” Randy said.

Aortic aneurysms are the thirteenth leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for approximately 15,000-20,000 deaths annually.

Randy stayed in intensive care for three weeks at a local hospital. His stay didn’t go smoothly. During a procedure he had complications with blood clots, and later he experienced mini-strokes and respiratory failure. After being cleared as stable, Randy’s doctor wanted him to start therapy right away. He was sent to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, but his stay didn’t last long.

During Randy’s first night, his nurse noticed discoloration on his legs and had a very hard time finding his pulse.

Randy was sent back to the hospital for another week with lower extremity problems. He needed a blood transfusion, and had stints put in.

He came back to Mary Free Bed with determination. Randy’s goal was to walk again before he returned home.

To help make this happen, Randy had a full schedule. He received care from physical and occupational therapists in the Spinal Cord Injury Program, seven days a week. He also received speech language therapy three times a day due to swallowing difficulties.

Randy enjoyed working with Mary Free Bed therapists.

“It was such an experience,” says Randy. “My therapists were so friendly, yet they worked you. You can tell they are professional and knew how to integrate therapy with your mind. They make you want to work hard.”

His never-let-up mentality was soon to pay off.

Around his fifth week of inpatient care, his physical therapist said they were going to use the parallel bars to try to get him to stand.

Minutes later he was in tears. Randy was standing.

“There are no words to describe it,” he says. “It was a miracle to me.”

Randy quickly progressed to taking little steps with the bars. A week later he was ready to use a walker.

He went 15 feet the first time, then 35, then 100. Randy accomplished his goal.

In August, Randy was ready to go home. But he knew the hard work was not over. He continued with outpatient therapy three times a week, and did his best to do at-home exercises.

“This place did a miracle. It was a great team effort. It was hard to leave this place,” says Randy.

There was still one more thing Randy wanted to get back – his drivers’ license.

In March, he checked that off his list.

“I felt so relieved,” says Randy. “I felt so cooped up not being able to drive.”

His piece of advice for others in similar situations: “Just don’t give up. Take it day by day. You may be at a plateau with improvement, but then all of a sudden it will come to you.”

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