Jon Moeller is a true Harley-Davidson fan; he has the t-shirt to prove it. He shares a dream for getting back in the saddle, despite a serious motorcycle accident last fall left him paralyzed.
The 27-year-old Grand Island, Neb., native recounts how he was riding with a friend on Sept. 13, 2008 near Hastings when he lost control of his new bike, ramped off a culvert and flew into a field. A passerby, who happened to be a nurse, arrived first at the scene and assessed Jon. A broken left arm, collapsed lung and blocked airway left him struggling. The nurse performed an emergency tracheotomy to keep Jon breathing until an ambulance arrived.
Jon was stabilized at St. Francis Medical Center and life flighted to BryanLGH West where he spent two weeks in a drug-induced coma. As the fog lifted, Jon was informed of his most serious injury—extensive spinal cord damage resulting in paralysis. Jon points to a thick scar on his arm where three plates are embedded under skin that endured multiple grafts. Injuries aside, he is grateful to be alive.
Jon transferred to Madonna in early October and immediately felt a sense of relief. He was no stranger to Madonna, having rehabilitated here in 2002 after suffering a stroke. “I felt safe and confident in the staff because I knew many of them from my previous stay,” said Jon.
Short term goals Jon set with his team included becoming free of the trach and sitting upright. A determined young man, he crossed those off his list within weeks and resolved to work towards independence. Matt Ulmer, physical therapist, recalls Jon forging ahead in therapy, even though he was initially limited to his one good arm. “As he began to heal, Jon used both arms and progressed rapidly,” shared Matt.
As Jon began to heal physically, he gradually began to work on his mental attitude. Jon credits Madonna counselor Kipp Ransom with shaping his acceptance of being in a wheelchair. “Kipp convinced me this is a new way of life and I can do a lot with it,” said Jon. “I’m now able to do almost everything I did before the accident, just in a different way,” he added.
Shannon Eckery, occupational therapist, found Jon’s positive attitude carried him through the tough days. “Jon was a breath of fresh air. He was never without a smile, and his laugh was contagious!” said Shannon.
Shannon remembered coming to Jon’s room when he was discharging on Oct. 31. She wanted to make sure he could shower and dress without assistance. To her surprise, Jon had gotten up early and was all ready for the trip home. “It was one of my proudest moments as a therapist when Jon thanked me for teaching him the skills he needed to succeed,” said Shannon.
Once Jon was back home, he received outpatient therapy from a local provider. After several months, Jon hit a “dead spot” in his rehabilitation. Jon kept a close connection with his Madonna therapists and shared his frustrations with them. The therapy team agreed that Jon should be achieving more independence and encouraged him to return to Madonna as an outpatient.
In January 2009, Jon secured a room in Madonna’s on-site four-plex, a place he’d call home while he completed his intense daily therapy. Jon aimed for a higher level of independence and sought to regain his driving privileges. He utilized Madonna’s Spinal Cord Clinic to address his challenges. A driving evaluation helped get him behind the wheel again and adjust to maneuvering a vehicle with hand controls. “Completing that evaluation gave me the confidence back that I could drive again,” said Jon.
After four weeks, Jon returned home to Grand Island and now drives to his part-time job at Best Buy in his wheelchair accessible van. He’s proud of his accomplishments, but stresses he had a lot of help. “I wouldn’t be independent or driving if I hadn’t come to Madonna,” Jon emphasized.
He “pays it forward” as a peer volunteer for Madonna’s spinal cord injury program. “I’ll do anything I can to give back to Madonna,” said Jon.
The accident changed Jon’s outlook on life and he no longer takes things for granted. “Madonna helped me achieve the physical and mental ability to live in wheelchair,” he shares. And, dreaming big, Jon is hopeful to one day again experience the open road from the seat of a Harley.