Posted on December 17, 2019

Cameron’s recovery from spinal cord injury inspires sister’s career in occupational therapy

Life sometimes has a funny way of coming full circle. The journey began for the Tacey family on April 18, 2004.

Cameron Tacey was 16 when he injured his spinal cord in a car accident near his Bay City home. His parents were told he may not survive and if he did, that he’d likely never walk again. He was put into a medically-induced coma as his body fought to recover.

His condition eventually stabilized, and doctors recommended he go to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids for inpatient rehabilitation. When he arrived on May 11, Cameron couldn’t move his legs and had limited mobility in his arms. With intensive therapy, he slowly began to make progress, from wiggling his toes to standing to walking with assistance. He graduated three months later.

“To be able to walk out on my own was a pretty amazing experience,” Cameron said.

During his stay, Cameron’s siblings, Evan and Ashton, visited him on weekends and observed his therapy sessions. Mary Free Bed encourages family members to participate in therapy to provide encouragement and to learn how to help when their loved one goes home.

Although just eight years old at the time, the experience had a lasting impact on Ashton.

“I saw Cameron’s progress, and I said, ‘I want to do that’,” she said, deciding then she would become an occupational therapist. “I wanted to help everyone.”

Fifteen years later, she’s realizing that dream. She graduated Dec. 13 from Saginaw Valley State University with a master’s degree in occupational therapy. The day before, she completed an internship at Mary Free Bed.

To celebrate, her family – including Cameron, who works as an audio engineer in Los Angeles – traveled to Grand Rapids. They visited with members of Cameron’s therapy team, including physical therapist Joe Winegar, physical therapy assistant Starr Sutton and recreational therapist Christy VanHaver.

Cameron, who’s made a near-full recovery, had some fun with them, recreating pictures taken when he was a patient (see photo gallery above).

While he was happy to see old friends and share his thanks for putting him on the path to independence, Cameron’s most proud of his brother and sister for choosing careers that help others. Evan, who was 12 when Cameron was injured, is planning a career in social work. And seeing Ashton working alongside those who helped him was exciting, he said.

“The fact that Ashton got to come back to Mary Free Bed to do this – full circle – blows my mind,” Cameron said. “She’s going to do great things.”

Media in Grand Rapids and Flint shared the Tacey family’s story:

WZZM: Brother’s incredible recovery spurs sister’s career

WJRT: Siblings inspired to help others following brother’s spinal cord injury