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Joe Poelker

Release Date: 11/19/2012

Fall victim shares a Thanksgiving story of courage and hard work

Jerry Fraley participates in a therapy session with occupational therapist Patti Jones.

Jerry Fraley participates in a therapy session with occupational therapist Patti Jones.

Thanksgiving this year was particularly poignant for one south county family. Jerry and Chris Fraley, of Affton, are brimming with gratitude, even as 64-year-old Jerry struggles to recover from injuries suffered in a debilitating fall two months ago.

On Sept. 11, Jerry was carrying some boxes up the basement stairs at their home when he lost his balance and fell from the top step to the concrete floor at the bottom, unable to move. He hit his head and was bleeding. He called out for help and, fortunately, Chris was still at home. He asked her to turn him over, but her medical experience told her she shouldn’t because he might have a spinal cord injury. She called 911 and her two sons to come from work.

When Jerry arrived at St. Anthony’s Emergency Department, he was rushed to CT and then to MRI. Dr. Tanya Quinn, a neurological surgeon, was called in to consult and broke the news to them that Jerry was an incomplete quadriplegic with central cord syndrome at the C4 level. As a nurse in St. Anthony’s Acute Rehab and also a certified rehabilitation nurse, Chris knew the gravity of this diagnosis. Dr. Quinn performed emergency surgery on Jerry, which went well. But they would not know how much motor and sensory function that Jerry would regain. He spent the next week in St. Anthony’s Neuro ICU, where at first he could only wiggle his toes.

Jerry then was transferred to St. Anthony’s Acute Rehab department, under the care of Dr. Harmeen Chawla, a spinal cord specialist. Chris had contacted Dr. Chawla the morning of Jerry’s accident after learning that he suffered a spinal cord injury. Chris says she and her husband are tremendously thankful for the extraordinary and compassionate care given to Jerry by the many doctors, nurses, therapists and technicians who crossed his path in the last month as he struggled to recover. They are convinced that the teams of caregivers who flew into action that terrible morning and every day since then made a huge difference in his outcome.

“I am just lucky to be alive, the way I fell,” recalls Jerry, who was gravely ill during the early days of his hospitalization. “The caregivers—not only the therapists, but all the nurses—treat me like I’m kind of special king or something. It’s just like a miracle: I was calling them drill sergeants, but I’m walking 200 feet with a walker with arm supports. My feet are still numb and frozen, and so are my hands, and I have a long road ahead. But it’s a blessing, the way they’ve gotten me on my feet again.

“From when I came to my senses in this room, I told Chris, ‘I am going to walk out of here,’ ” he added. “And I will, thanks to the people in therapy. I just want to fight it all the way. It’s amazing, the care I’ve received at St. Anthony’s.”

Jerry was expected to be discharged on Thanksgiving morning, in time to celebrate a truly notable holiday at home. Though he has many more hurdles to conquer, Jerry can feed himself with his left thumb and index fingers and, with the assistive devices provided, can assist with the activities of daily living.

“The saga of Jerry’s recovery is an inspiring story, and shows what hard work and motivation to be as independent as possible can do,” Chris said. “The doctor and nurses and therapists always told me how positive Jerry was and ready to participate in therapy. So many people have been great in providing support, from the Emergency Department to Neuro ICU and Acute Rehab, the managers and secretaries, dietary and housekeeping, respiratory and transporters. I can think of so many people who were friendly and helpful, and this is what a patient and family needs when they are dealing with a hospitalization.”

Chris says she always knew that she worked with great people for the past 12 years at St. Anthony’s, but now that she has seen firsthand how well her husband is doing and all the kindness shown to him and her family, she is extraordinarily grateful to them for their skill and compassion.

“We are so grateful this year for many of the things we take for granted and which were milestones to celebrate as we watched Jerry progress in his recovery – such as the ability to stand up and bear his own weight, to take a step, to move his thumb, to turn over by himself, and to feed himself,” she says.

Cases like her husband’s point up the importance of rehabilitation therapy. “This is what we do, and we do it well,” Chris says of the work she and her co-workers do every day in Acute Rehab.

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