Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Lincoln bodybuilder makes big gains after spinal cord injury

July 27, 2023

For years, Tito Vigan’s morning routine has been extremely structured. And when he is preparing for bodybuilding competitions, it gets more intense.

“I always wake up at 4:30 in the morning, grab a snack and head to the gym,” Tito said. “But when you register for a show and then three months away you work hard. You lift in the morning, do cardio, so working hard morning and afternoon. But you are also dieting. I love working hard and it was something fun for me to do.”

But on May 6th, 2023, while in the midst of a three-month training cycle at the gym, Tito started to feel uncomfortable. A heat sensation moved down his back. Suddenly, on the morning of his 34th birthday, Tito lost all mobility from the waist down.

“I thought it was some sort of discomfort that will pass by,” Tito said. “I went down to stretch a little bit, hoping it would go away, but it didn’t. Next thing I know, I lost my ankle and my knee mobility and I was paralyzed. I couldn’t walk.”

Taken to Bryan Medical Center West and then to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Tito underwent multiple tests, and after several days in the hospital, doctors finally found the answer. Tito had experienced a rare stroke to his spinal cord.

He came to Madonna’s specialized spinal cord program, and although he couldn’t do much for himself, he was determined to regain his mobility.

“I could barely transition myself from a bed to a chair,” Tito said. “I couldn’t put on my own socks, my own shoes, my own clothes. I couldn’t shower myself or stand up myself. There was a lot that I couldn’t do.”

With daily physician visits, coupled with intensive physical and occupational therapies, Tito learned how to navigate life in a wheelchair and benefited from a variety of Madonna’s specialized technology to help his legs get stronger. He also saw great progress in the warm water therapy pool.

“When Tito first came in, he was coming in on a lift chair,” Sarah Stevicks, PTA, aquatic therapist, said. “We put a collar around his neck and a belt under his hips and we started in float. He was not able to stand up in three feet of water.”

Slowly but surely, Tito progressed from the wheelchair to the Hocoma Lokomat, a robotic treadmill training system, and worked to re-learn his stride. With the help of the Moveo, Nustep and the Hocoma Armeo®Senso, Tito’s strength and balance improved and he transitioned to a walker.

As Tito transitioned through Madonna’s continuum of care, from inpatient to the Rehabilitation Day program to TherapyPlus outpatient, he also saw an uptick in his independence.

Cleared to drive, he also transitioned from the walker to the fore-arm crutches. Then he progressed to using a cane, and he can now walk short distances without assistance.

“By the time a patient comes to outpatient, they are thinking about what next,” Kelly Billings, PT, C/NDT, physical therapist, said. “They are thinking, ‘what can I start doing at home, can I take care of my kids, and can I start thinking about a job’, so really fine-tuning that function. We get to be the last little piece of the puzzle to really help guide them on to community, work re-entry and life at home.”

For Tito, not only can he take care of his two daughters, but now he has also been cleared to return to the place he once loved—the gym.

“It feels like coming back home and place where I feel myself,” Tito said.

Throughout this experience, Tito showed up with therapy every day with a smile on his face and an idea for his session in mind, even if he wasn’t sure he could do it.

“He was just ready to go,” Billings said. “He always came in saying ‘I want to work on this. I don’t know if I can do this, but I really want to try.’”

The effort and willingness to work paid off. As Tito wrapped up his several months of rehabilitation, he recognized that little progress still means something and he should never take anything for granted.

“I just keep reminding myself that you couldn’t do this before, but now you can do it,” Tito said.

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