NRN Spotlight: Magee Rehabilitation Hospital

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on February 10, 2017 # Research

One of the most striking aspects of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network (NRN) is that every story offers unique perspectives. For participants at the Magee Rehabilitation Hospital NRN Center in Philadelphia, PA, the stories are different, but they are all built on an essential element for recovery - hope.

Commitment to Success

“I went from a very dark place to finally seeing some light,” said Donna Bilo, who broke her neck from a fall down a flight of stairs in 2014 and started in the NRN in June 2015. “I feel so lucky to be in this program. My progress was unbelievable. It absolutely changed my life.”

Through Locomotor Training, Bilo progressed quickly from immobility below the neck to walking independently with a walker. The NRN Occupational Therapy program has helped her gain better trunk control and use of her hands.

“Everyone who hasn’t seen me in a while remarks on how much better I look,” said Bilo. “I was hunched over all the time and now I can walk straight up and get up from being seated without help. My hands were curled under from the injury. One is now totally open and the other is only curled a little. I can put in contacts and do my makeup and my hair, all things I couldn’t do before.”

The NRN program also helped Bilo wean off one medication and move to the lowest dose in others. She believes that an important key to her success was the tremendous support and encouragement offered by the Magee NRN staff.

“Therapy is my new job and the therapists are my new family,” said Bilo. “I look forward to seeing them every day. They are selfless people who want to be there. I have bad days like everyone, but they keep me moving forward.”

Individualized Outcomes

Twenty-five-year-old Kirk Crandall was the first ASIA A NRN participant at Magee with a complete lack of motor and sensory function below the level of injury. Injured in a 2012 car accident at the age of 21, Crandall arrived at the NRN in 2013 unable to complete important tasks like locking the brakes to his wheelchair without falling out of his chair.

“I made a lot of gains I never thought I would make,” said Crandall who is now reclassified as ASIA B. “When I started to stand, I would blackout quickly. Now my endurance has improved and I’m almost completely independent. I can get in and out of bed and the shower. I started driving again. I’ve regained some leg movement and my arms are almost completely normal.”

Although Crandall was continuing to make slow progress, his insurance company said he was not showing enough improvement to continue.

“To truly get better, you need the extended time. It could drastically change the possibility of what I can do,” said Crandall who wishes he could continue in the NRN program. “I still aspire to be totally independent and walk on my own one day. People can and will improve if you give them the opportunity to get better.”

Bilo agrees. Although her injury occurred on the job as a realtor and was covered by worker’s compensation, she met others, like Crandall, who had insurance challenges.

“It is so unfair to see others who are making good progress and getting denied by insurance. It’s inhumane. A good percent of what I lost is coming back and everyone in this situation should have a chance to achieve the best results they can.”

Long-Term Benefits

Mike DePetris, currently 39, also made substantial progress through the Magee NRN program in 2011 and 2012.

“I immersed myself in Locomotor Training supported by the NRN in late 2011 and 2012 and I quickly progressed from a wheelchair to walking with confidence and independence,” said DePetris who sustained a cervical level spinal cord injury in a 2011 diving accident. “I also had an immeasurable number of other improvements through NRN that came from being surrounded by a positive, motivating, caring and knowledgeable staff.”

A father of four under six years of age at the time of his accident, DePetris returned to work full-time after completing his Locomotor Training. He is currently an active PA certified accountant and enjoys volunteering and coaching his kids’ in sports.

“One of the most remarkable things about my story is my ability to return to an independent life,” said DePetris. “It’s a blessing to have gotten the results I did and Magee and the NRN certainly helped me to accelerate that outcome. At the end of the day, NRN-sponsored therapies are not a miracle, but they do allow you to maximize the opportunities you are given.”

DePetris has also made a point of giving back through participating in a formal NRN study about his progress as well as fundraising and serving as a representative at a Kentucky marathon for the Reeve Foundation.

“People make the difference, both at Magee and the Reeve Foundation” said DePetris. “I’ve had several opportunities to meet and learn about how the NRN functions. I’ve really been impressed with everyone I’ve met from the Reeve Foundation and their passion for formalizing and sharing best practices across the NRN centers. We all have so many reasons to stay positive.”

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.