Spinal Cord Injury: Sgt. Howie Sanborn - Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

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Sgt. Howie Sanborn

US Army Paratrooper, Age 31, Ft. Bragg, NC

RIC patient Howie SanbornHowie Sanborn was always athletic, which is why it was no surprise to anyone when he joined the US Army. He went on to qualify as a member of the Golden Knights, the Army’s elite paratrooper team, serving two years in Iraq.

Howie had participated in multiple marathons and triathlons, and was often seen training with friends around base. One afternoon, he was out on a training ride on his bicycle near base when a driver hit him from behind, ejecting him from his bike, breaking his neck, and injuring his spinal cord. The accident left him paralyzed from the waist down and doctors told him he would never walk again.

That was not acceptable to Howie.

Howie was admitted to RIC’s Patient Recovery Unit featuring the world’s first AbilityLab™ where clinical and research teams integrate around the patients, working side-by-side to solve patient problems and translate science into care faster and better. It was a perfect match for Howie’s tenacious spirit.

“Howie is one of those guys that would often be seen in the AbilityLab™ working out in his free time. He looked for opportunities for more practice and more therapy,” said Kara Kozeb O’Dell, 9th floor clinical manager.

While an inpatient, Howie began to show signs of motor return in his lower body and then began an intensive gait-training pilot program. That innovative program used the findings of a concurrent research trial underway at RIC and found that high-intensity training earned better results in walking for a longer period of time.

Within just a few months, Howie left RIC walking with the assistance of a walker and continues to work hard back on base. He is also training to compete in the 2016 Paralympics in the sport of paratriathlon—a 750 meter swim, a 20 kilometer ride on a hand cycle, and a 5 kilometer “run" in a racing wheelchair. His goal is to make the national team and win the gold for the US in 2016.