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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Former student-athlete stays active after spinal cord injury

January 17, 2022

Whether it’s scoring more than 1,000 points on the basketball court in high school or qualifying for the state meet in cross country, Toby Bower is always busy. The 18-year-old from Fontanelle, Iowa, remained active throughout his athletic career at Nodaway Valley, building friendships and enjoying the grind of practicing several sports.

After graduating high school, Toby turned to a career in construction. Then, while heading to work one October morning, Toby was involved in a single-vehicle accident causing a spinal cord injury.

“I just remember the impact and not even feeling it,” Toby recalled. “It was such a blessing I didn’t go through that pain. I’m trying to make the most of it; I can’t change it now.”

Paramedics life-flighted Toby to Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines, and after a lengthy stay there, he came to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals ready to get back on his feet. Being a multi-sport athlete, Toby’s ability to work hard stood out. With his Iowa Hawkeye hat on, Toby began meeting milestones in Madonna’s inpatient therapy. Boosting his confidence, Toby started taking steps with the help of the Rifton TRAM, a transfer and mobility device used to assist with walking.

“It was the hardest thing you could ever even imagine,” Toby said. “Your brain has to tell you to lift your foot and kick it out. That was so big in my growth here at Madonna. With the Rifton TRAM, I walked down and back four times. It made me so joyful because I wasn’t supposed to move, and now I’m walking. We got a video of it, and I use it for motivation.”

Focused on his interests, Toby’s therapists took him to Madonna ProActive, a state-of-the-art medical health and fitness facility in Lincoln. There, Toby started lifting weights again and began learning how to play wheelchair basketball.

“We played basketball for a half-hour, and that was awesome. It’s kind of scary looking at the hoop that’s 10 feet above you; it’s a lot taller now than what it was [before],” Toby said with a laugh.

“We did an outing to ProActive so we could work on some very basic wheelchair basketball skills,” Kristin Luethke, a recreation therapist at Madonna, said. “So, if he wanted to return to playing basketball, we showed him that it is possible even if you’re in a wheelchair.”

Motivated by his progress, Toby continues to push his limits in Madonna’s outpatient therapy. With a no-fear-of-failure attitude, Toby is living proof that nothing is impossible.

“Being here, I’ve grown so much,” Toby said. “I’m excited for the next chapter, but I’m going to miss the friendships that I built here because everyone here is amazing.”

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