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Overcoming the Impossible

NeuroRecovery Network patient, Tony Malloy.

NeuroRecovery Network patient, Tony Malloy.

By: Janelle LoBello

Name: Tony Malloy
Injury: C5, C6
Mechanism: Snowboarding accident
Date of Injury: January 2010

Just ask 19-year-old Tony Malloy.

Malloy was snowboarding in upstate New York in January of 2010, when one jump changed his life in an instant, resulting in a C5, C6 spinal cord injury.

"I went over a big ramp, and I just went too high in the air," explains Malloy of his fall. "I just fell on my back and the first thing that went through my head is that I couldn't feel my legs. It was scary."

What's next?
Malloy had surgery the following day and was in intensive care for two weeks at Westchester Hospital in upstate New York. In the beginning of February, he was brought to Kessler as an inpatient and was there until May when he was sent home as an outpatient.

Currently, Malloy is still an outpatient at Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation in West Orange, New Jersey as a Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network (NRN) patient, which he began in the summer of 2010.

The NeuroRecovery Network is a cooperative network of cutting-edge rehabilitation centers designed to provide and develop therapies to promote functional recovery and improve the health and quality of life of people living with paralysis.

"I've seen a lot of improvement since I've started," says Malloy of his two-and-a-half-hours daily workout. "I'm using my legs a lot. I'm using them functionally now, which I wasn't doing before. I'm a lot stronger and a lot more independent."

Malloy during a locomotor training session suspended in a harness over a treadmill.

Malloy during a locomotor training session suspended in a harness over a treadmill.

Locomotor training making a difference
One of the therapies Malloy performs is locomotor training. Locomotor training is the method of physical therapy currently deployed by the NRN. In locomotor training sessions, the paralyzed patient is suspended in a harness over a treadmill, while specially-trained therapists move his legs to simulate walking. As the patient regains function, he moves from the treadmill to conventional walking. No two NRN patients will respond in exactly the same way, nor is each patient likely to experience the entire range of possible changes and improvements.

Other types of therapy Malloy works at are stand retraining and stand adaptability, as one of his physical therapists, Jared Milligan explains.

"Stand retraining is when we try to put him in the proper positioning," says Milligan. "Stand adaptability is when he does most of the work himself. With step retraining we are trying to facilitate as much as possible to get the best pattern. Step adaptability is when he is trying to do as much as he can."

Thanks to his therapies, Malloy is slowly moving away from being dependent on a wheelchair.

"I can stand using a walker," says Malloy of his current progress, "for about 20 or 30 seconds without anyone touching me in the walker. It's not something that I can do functionally yet. I can't use a walker at home, or go walking with it, but I'm moving toward that hopefully. For now I use my legs for transfers and things, but I don't stand all the way up."

Tony Malloy pictured with physical therapists, Lindsay McIntyre, Maureen Duane-Pfeiffer, and Jared Milligan.

Tony Malloy pictured with physical therapists, Lindsay McIntyre, Maureen Duane-Pfeiffer, and Jared Milligan.

"Just keep going"
When asked if Malloy or Milligan foresee the absence of a wheelchair anytime soon, Milligan replied, "So far that's the goal. Just keep working hard and you can achieve anything, that's what Christopher Reeve said, ‘Impossible is Nothing.' So that's how you got to think of it."

Overtime, Malloy has also gained more confidence and is able to live a full a life.

"I've definitely seen a lot of change in Tony since joining the NRN," explains Milligan. "He's gotten so much stronger. From the first day he's been here, as of now, it's been leaps and bounds. If he keeps working, he's going to keep improving, and that's what we like to see. He has a good attitude toward it and he's focused. The focus is not on the past, he is looking ahead. He wants to get where he needs to be, and he will if he keeps doing it the right way."

For anyone who doubts they can overcome the impossible, Malloy simply advises, "Just keep going. Keep Trying. Everyone says this but, don't give up. It's important to just do everything you can to improve your situation."

Learn more
Learn all about how the Reeve Foundation's NeuroRecovery Network is developing and expanding access to activity-based therapies, resulting in improved health, quality of life, and function.

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Continue Christopher Reeve's LegacyPhoto by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders