Amputation: Paul Moran's Story - Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

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Paul Moran's Story

A true champion

Paul Moran's Patient Story

Sitting in his specially designed wheelchair in the Olympic Stadium in Sydney, Australia, Paul Moran looked around at the spectacle of the opening ceremony of the 2000 Paralympic Games and thought to himself, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

It was a trip that had started on that exact same day 15 years earlier when Moran had been crushed beneath the wheels of a Boston trolley car in a freak accident. Extracted an hour later, the 18-year-old Boston College freshman had nearly died on the operating table while several teams of surgeons worked frantically to repair his severely injured body.           

Three months later, Moran came to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) for inpatient rehabilitation to help him learn to live his life with his new disabilities. His right leg was amputated just below the hip, and he had lost two fingers on his left hand as a result of the accident.

Experiencing inpatient rehabilitation care

Acts as simple as going up and down stairs and sitting on a toilet seat were now a challenge for Moran. But while he was an inpatient at RIC, Moran learned how to accomplish everyday activities and adopted new techniques for doing things such as going through a revolving door using crutches (turn your back to the door and push it with your behind). Occupational therapists had him squeeze and mold a ball of clay in his damaged hand in order to regain strength and flexibility, allowing him to use his remaining hand and fingers to do other important functions.

“They showed me how to do things in new ways that worked for me,” he says. “They would give me ideas, I would improvise and they’d watch over me as I tried to figure it out.”

One of the specific goals RIC’s therapists had for Moran was regaining flexibility and strength in what remained of his right leg so he would have a reliable anchor from which to manipulate his new prosthetic device. Moran says his therapists’ constant encouragement during stretching and strengthening exercises made a big difference. “They definitely pushed me, much like a personal trainer would, and that was a very good thing,” he says. “It helped me regain mobility and flexibility sooner than I would have otherwise, which allowed me to get back to my life.”           

He was a fast learner. As he gradually built up his strength and weight, the 6-foot-2-inch Moran left his therapists amazed by his boundless energy. “I started feeling very strong,” he says, “like I was bouncing out of my own body.”           

Finding hidden talents

Moran soon found the perfect outlet for his energy. One day in 1990 he was watching a women’s wheelchair basketball tournament sponsored by RIC in his hometown, the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, when he decided to “hop around on one leg,” as he says, and shoot a few hoops after the game ended. A coach from the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Sports Program at RIC, which offers adaptive sports and recreation programs for people with disabilities, saw him and invited him to learn more about RIC’s sports program and ways he could participate in adaptive sports. Moran agreed and “that’s when things really changed for me,” he said.           

Moran had thought his days of playing organized sports were over, but he soon found out that he was wrong. He discovered that he hadn’t lost his natural athletic ability during his injury and recovery, and the next year he joined RIC’s wheelchair basketball team. He also joined RIC’s wheelchair softball team, the RIC Cubs, and notes that being part of the team that won two national championships in 2002 and 2005 was one of his greatest thrills. “These are the only titles the Cubs have won in 100 years,” joked Moran.

After learning to play basketball and softball, Moran was introduced to sit volleyball. He fell in love with the sport and was a quick success in the game. The next year, Moran tried out and won a spot on the U.S. Sit Volleyball Paralympic team which competed in Barcelona in 1992. Moran went on to compete in three more Paralympics, including the one in Sydney that fell on the 15th anniversary of his accident. “I definitely wouldn’t be here on the other side of the world without RIC,” Moran thought to himself at the time.          

While in Barcelona, he happened to see wheelchair tennis being played and decided to give it a try. He was a natural. By the summer of 2001, Moran was ranked number 23 in the world among wheelchair tennis players, and the following year he won two regional tournaments.           

In 2005, Moran decided to focus exclusively on tennis and is currently working at the Winnetka Park District’s A.C. Nielsen Tennis Center teaching tennis to those with and without disabilities. He is ranked third in the U.S. and 33rd in the world, and he hopes to win a medal at the Beijing Paralympics this summer. “That would be a Cinderella story,” he says.           

Moran, now 41, still thrives on the competition of wheelchair sports. “They push you to see how good you can be,” he says. “You realize that you have more potential than you first thought.”           

Even though it has been more than 20 years since she provided nursing care for Moran, Laura Ferrio, RN, MSN, MBA, CRRN, now vice president of patient care services and chief nurse executive, has followed Moran’s progress and is impressed at how far he has come. “He was always willing to try almost anything,” she said. “It is no surprise he has been so successful competing in the world of Paralympic sports.”           

Moran is forever grateful to Ferrio and all the people at RIC who helped him to regain his independence, realize his full athletic potential and achieve goals he never imagined possible. “It was through RIC that I discovered sports again, and I think that was the greatest therapy of all for me. It changed my life profoundly.”