RIC Patient (AND Doctor) Allison Kessler - Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

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Published on September 17, 2014

CBS News Celebrates One of RIC's Own

CHICAGO - Anchor Rob Johnson featured Dr. Allison Kessler, a former patient and now Resident here at RIC, on the CBS Evening News. This full circle story not only profiles her brave journey, but showcases her passion for helping RIC patients with spinal cord injuries.

(Watch the video and/or read the transcript below)

NEWSCAST TRANSCRIPT: Imagine being a carefree teenager, smart, athletic, friendly. When, all of a sudden, you're paralyzed from the waist down after a freak skiing accident.

This actually happened to Allison Kessler, but she turned the darkest moment of her life into something bright. And she's now helping injured patients at the same place she received her treatment.

[Dr. Kessler:] "I'm Doctor Kessler, nice to meet you."

Allison Kessler works at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. As a third-year physiatry resident - or rehab doctor - she is uniquely qualified for this job.

[Dr. Kessler:] "Have you done the kidney ultrasounds at all?"

You see, she was paralyzed from the waist down in a skiing accident in 2001. Allison did her rehab at RIC.

[Dr. Kessler:] "I really wanted to go home for my 16th birthday, really did not want to be in the hospital. So they let me go, I think, two days before my 16th birthday."

Amazingly, Allison quickly returned to her East Coast boarding school, later went to Harvard, and came back to Chicago to attend Northwestern Medical School. It was then that she met Ben Veer at the rowing club on a day she'd forgotten her jacket.

[Ben:] "She doesn't remember this at all" [Dr. Kessler:] "I remember some of it" ...

Allison and Ben dated all the while she was at med school. And when it came time for her residency, Allison headed back to RIC.

[Dr. Kessler:] "I love working there. I love the patients that I get to work with. Being able to be back in the place that helped me, and being able to be that person to maybe help someone else do what they want to do is incredibly fulfilling."

Patients like Patrick Severin, who also uses a wheelchair.

[Patrick:] "She knows a lot of the stuff we go through on a daily basis, so she's able to understand more about the paralysis, and the day-to-day issues that someone in a wheelchair has to deal with."

One of her supervisors at RIC is Dr. David Chen, who remembers her as a patient all those years ago.

[Dr. Chen:] "She really exemplifies being a professional, and not only with her colleagues, but with the patients and families that she communicates with and that she works with."

As for Ben and Allison, it worked out. They were married August 30th, and Ben says he never spends much time thinking about what she can't do.

[Ben:] "To the point that we will pull into the garage and I'll turn the car off because I'm tired" [Dr. Kessler:] "And he'll start walking away, and I'll say 'no'" [Ben:] "Because I need to go get her wheelchair... Or I've taken the stairs down, and say 'Gee, this is much faster'"

They have great humor and are a great couple. Allison has one more year on her residency before deciding where she will practice for the long term. And, talk about a talented family, her father, Dr. Jack Kessler, changed the focus of his research after she had her injury and made it spinal cord regeneration, and she says, "He's my dad. I love him, of course I appreciate what he did."