On the winding road to recovery
It wasn’t a ton of falling bricks that left Scott Gledhill immobile in a hospital bed, but when a doctor told the Truckee resident that he’d never walk again after an accident the crush to his psyche was just as heavy.
But the bad news delivered to Gledhill, an avid triathlete who sustained a severe spinal cord injury two months ago when he was thrown from his bike while riding on Northwoods Boulevard, hasn’t kept him down.
“I knew when the paramedics pulled me out of the bushes that things were bad,” Gledhill said. “The pain was serious.”
After an emergency airlift to Washoe Medical Center in Reno, where Gledhill underwent CAT Scans, X-rays, and spinal reconstructive surgery, the damages were assessed at six broken ribs with numerous other hairline fractures, three cracked and dislocated vertebrate, and a damaged spinal cord. The bicycle helmet he was wearing was completely shattered.
“Paralysis didn’t occur to me. I just figured that within a few days the feeling [in my legs] would come back,” he said. “The crushing moment (when he was told of his permanent paralysis) hit me like a ton of bricks.”
Having received pessimistic expectations for recovery from his doctors, Gledhill and his wife, Jackie Ginley, opted to test a path of alternative healing methods.
Their search took Gledhill from Truckee, to Denver, to San Jose, to Carlsbad, and in the end, landed him at the tip of a tiny needle.
Scalp acupuncture, the primary form of therapy that Gledhill selected, is used for the treatment of a number of central nervous system disorders and neurological diseases. During sessions lasting about one hour, thin needles are pushed nearly half an inch into the scalp and then manipulated to stimulate nerves and illicit response.
Acupuncture has been the most important element of his recovery, Gledhill said. It got him out of his wheelchair and walking with assistance during his first session.
“It really woke up my legs, and made my muscles receptive,” he said. “As the spine began to heal, the legs were in a much better position to respond. Without [acupuncture] I would have been a limp, atrophied noodle.”
But recovery has nonetheless remained a frustrating and long process for Gledhill, who say returning to the life and activities he once knew cannot come fast enough.
“I will not accept this as a life sentence, I will do everything I can to get out of this wheelchair and begin to walk again.”
His goals for recovery are lofty and include going to the Great Race in March and the Donner Lake Triathlon in July, even if it is just to stand at the start line.
“I don’t know that any part of ‘taking it easy’ is part of Scott’s vocabulary,” said Tanya Paul, owner of Bikram Yoga Truckee, where Gledhill has been taking classes.
Paul, with the help of local businesses, instructors and members of the Bikram Yoga studio, and a smattering of community members, has organized a fundraiser to help Gledhill and his family pay for the mounting cost of alternative therapies that are not covered by insurance.
“The inspiration for me comes back to the awesome power of the mind. If you set your mind to something you can do anything, including healing your body beyond anyone’s medical expectations,” Paul said. “You can and you will, if you believe, and
Scott has been proof of that.”
Ken Brown, the former owner of Truckee Trattoria who slipped into a coma after an unexplained road cycling accident in May, is continuing to make progress in his recovery.
Brown, who sustained brain damage as well as many broken bones in his face, arms, and shoulder, spent two months recovering in the hospital, and the three and a half months since in speech and physical therapy.
“I would like to be much better, but all things considered, I am doing pretty darn well,” he said. “I have difficulty maintaining memory. I have difficulty reading, and used to be an avid reader. But some of the foreign languages are starting to come back.”
Before the accident, Brown spoke Hebrew, Spanish, and Italian. Now, even English is difficult.
“Your life is changed and it will never be what it was,” said Liz, Brown’s wife of 21 years. “You have to be able to give up what you had and accept what is possible.
“You can’t go back, but you have to go forward.”
Brown said he hopes to have most of his memory back within a year, and eventually get back on a bike.
Just weeks before the accident, the Browns returned home from a five month trip spent cycling through Europe.