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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Adventurous Missouri man back behind the wheel after spinal cord injury

June 22, 2021

“I’m lucky to be here and lucky to be alive,” 22-year-old Gunnar Martin said after suffering a serious incomplete spinal cord injury.

On March 3, 2021, the Polo, Missouri man was found hours after being thrown from the ATV he was driving on a county road near his property. “My left arm was shattered into pieces, my right shoulder was broken, six cracked ribs, a punctured lung and a broken back.”

Due to the extent of his injuries, Gunnar thought his life had come to a screeching halt. Grappling with the emotional and physical toll the accident took on him was difficult, but Gunnar was determined to chart his own path forward.

In the early morning hours after the accident, emergency crews rushed Gunnar to Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri, for emergency surgery. Days later, Gunnar chose Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals – Lincoln Campus to start his rehabilitation journey. “I heard Madonna is the best and I wanted the best,” he said.

Early on, Gunnar couldn’t feel his legs and soon came to the realization that he was paralyzed. His adventurous spirit remained and Gunnar only had one goal in mind: adapting to his new lifestyle and gaining independence by getting back in the driver’s seat.

“I knew if I could still use my hands and arms, I would be able to drive again and I definitely wanted to drive again,” he said. “I realized this is definitely going to be a challenge, but I’ve always been competitive as a person. I will never give up on getting my independence back.”

Madonna’s therapists used specialized technology, including the FES bike, a hand-controlled driving simulator and adaptive wheelchair loading devices. “I was able to have an actual driving experience complete with an actual steering wheel, accelerator and brake before getting back into the driver’s seat.”

Gunnar was relieved to learn that his care team made his independence the priority in his treatment plan. “It was cool to see Madonna offer technology like this, where I was driving through unpredictable traffic situations, driving in the day time and night time,” he said.

Madonna’s occupational therapist Dani Willey said, “I know he will continue to do amazing things when he leaves here, regardless of his injury level, he came ready to work hard, and that’s exactly what he did.”

Before starting the engine for his first time behind the wheel since his accident, Gunnar expressed how he felt lucky that his therapists were devoted to his goals and helped him prepare to go home.

Forty-seven days later, Gunnar drove himself home. “I owe a lot to this place, not only for helping me reach my goals, but for never giving up on me,” he said, smiling.

“Gunnar is one of those patients that I had no worries of him going back home, I think he’s going to do an amazing job of getting back into his own routine,” Willey said. “Life may look a little different for him, but he’s going to make the most of it.”

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