Relearning to walk and talk was not in Greg Loving’s plans last year.
The ambitious 30-year-old was in his element working at Blue Origin, the aerospace venture capital company owned by Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos.
Greg’s love affair with space began as a young boy growing up in McPherson, Kansas. He was fascinated with galaxies, planets and a devoted Star Trek fan. Attending a space camp fueled his dream of working in the space industry.
Greg followed his career path, earning a chemical engineering degree with honors at the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in business from Harvard University.
In addition to his dream job, Greg, an avid runner and Crossfit enthusiast, embraced the outdoor adventures near his home in Seattle, Washington.
And then last February, his world came crashing down.
Greg fought through nausea, ringing in his ears, slurred speech and fell over at work.
Rushed to a local hospital, a CT scan revealed Greg had suffered a brain bleed from an arteriovenous malformation (AVM). The AVM was an abnormal bundle of nerves connecting arteries and nerves in his brain stem. The rupture was potentially life-threatening if it bled again.
“I was essentially a ticking time bomb,” Greg said, who chose to undergo surgery to remove the bleed.
Doctors referred him to Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. On March 5, 2020, one of the top neurosurgeons in the country performed the ten-hour, intricate surgery.
Due to the size of the AVM—it resembled a raspberry—and the location near his cerebellum, Greg’s motor and speech abilities were affected. “They had to sit me up and strap me into a wheelchair,” Greg said. “I had no balance or coordination.”
Seeking specialized rehabilitation, Greg and his family were attracted to Madonna’s world-class reputation because of two requirements they’d established: technology and compassion.
Family and friends highly recommended Madonna. “Everything was extremely positive; there wasn’t one negative,” said Dawn Loving, Greg’s mother.
“In addition to the technology, one of the things they always mentioned was the compassion,” said Dawn. “At a time like this, a life-altering situation that you’re not expecting, that compassion is a piece of it.”
A phone call connected Greg to Kristen Miles, Rehabilitation Day Program leader, who arranged for him to begin the comprehensive outpatient program in June at the Lincoln Campus.
During his recovery, Greg adopted Blue Origin’s moto “gradatim ferociter” – Latin for “step by step, ferociously.” He understood it wasn’t going to be a quick fix. “I knew it’d take mass repetitions to rewire my brain,” Greg said.
His days quickly filled with physical, occupational, speech and aquatic therapy. Greg’s team challenged him with specialized technology like the Propio, ICARE and ArmeoSpring to target his weak left side. Within eight weeks, he graduated from a wheelchair to a walker.
“What stands out to me is how kind and helpful the staff is” said Greg, who had a bevy of therapists. “They all have your best interests at heart.” But he noticed the culture throughout the hospital. “From the cafeteria workers to the janitors, everyone has been great.”
When Greg transitioned to the outpatient program, Kelly Billings, PT, tapped into Greg's love for technology and added a twist to therapy. She used high intensity gait training, a form of interval training known as HIIT. The goal being to boost Greg’s heart rate into a certain zone for a set period of time.
Greg wore a heart monitor and tracked his progress with an app on his iPhone. As an athlete, he gravitated to the challenge of HIIT. “It’s like fertilizer to your brain,” said Greg. “It’s said to increase the blood flow to the brain; it’s been a game-changer for him,” Dawn added.
“A brain injury is slow healing so the gains that we’ve seen are tremendous when you look back,” Dawn said.
“Watching Greg move from being in a wheelchair with very little balance, very little coordination, to now being able to stand and do things and on the verge of independently walking is a pretty amazing thing.”
To mark his six month recovery and last day of therapy, Greg was surprised with a ZOOM visit from Clayton Anderson, former NASA astronaut from Nebraska. The two bonded over sharing their love of space.
His team honored Greg with a Spirit Award for his attitude and perseverance during recovery. He continues to heal in an outpatient program near his parents’ home in Savannah, Georgia.
Each small step marking one giant leap for Greg Loving.