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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Madonna gives Nebraska All-Star football player new life outlook after spinal cord injury

August 10, 2023

Byron Skinner does it all. The recent-graduate of Cody-Kilgore High School was involved in football, basketball, theatre and the National Honor Society, all while working on his family’s ranch.

He was even selected for the 11th annual Battle for the Border: Nebraska-Wyoming six-man all-star prep football game. “ It was really awesome and would have been awesome to play in,” Byron said.

But Byron never got to strap on his pads for the game. A week before the big game, on May 27, Byron sustained a spinal cord injury in a car accident.

First responders rushed Byron to Monument Health Rapid City Hospital where doctors rebuilt six vertebrae and used two rods and 11 screws to fuse his spine. He arrived at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals’ specialized spinal cord injury program, eager to resume his active lifestyle and return to his family’s ranch.

“He was an active kid previously, and so he was able to do a decent amount,” Sarah Economides, PT, DPT, PCS, physical therapist, said. “He needed to learn how to move himself in a different way because now, all of a sudden, his legs and core muscles weren’t able to work. He learned really well and was able to reproduce those movements.”

Early on, Byron’s care team incorporated his interests into his sessions. Byron soon enjoyed all of Madonna’s adaptive sports equipment, including the Paragolfer and a sports wheelchair. From there, he learned how to play wheelchair basketball and tennis. He also experimented with a hockey sled. Plus, he enjoyed visits from Olympic athletes and Nebraska Cornhusker football players.

“The adaptive equipment and the sports equipment at Madonna have been amazing,” Byron said. “They allowed me to reintroduce myself into the world of sports again.”

Byron also discovered he could still ranch. Thanks to Madonna’s generous donors, Byron had the ability to utilize the Action TrackChair, a piece of specialized technology that allows users to cross a variety of outdoor terrain.

“Byron works on a ranch and in a manual wheelchair, getting outside in the grass and uneven surfaces and country roads and things like that is not easy,” Economides said. “The wheels don’t do bumps and gravel and sand very well. So we wanted to use whatever technology is available to show Byron how he can still be active and doing those activities that he loves, even after his injury. But the other unique feature of the ActionTrack chair is that it stands. So that chair can rise up, he can stand, he can rope a calf, he can do all sorts of things from that chair in a normal standing position.”

He even worked on roping a metal steer and when his balance improved, his therapists got creative and created moving targets for Byron.

“We started that roping really early on into his stay,” Victoria Bergen, OTD/OTRL, occupational therapist, said. We were really working on that dynamic balance, working on arm strengthening, and just gross motor movement with that.”

Additionally, through utilizing Madonna’s specialized technology, like the Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) Bike, Byron started to notice sensory changes in his legs. He plans to use electrical stimulation at home to potentially improve and gain some strength in his legs.

Strapped with a new-found self-confidence, Byron left Madonna independent in his wheelchair.

“When I first got here, I'd have dark, dark times, but Madonna allowed me to find my inner self, and I feel like I’m going to be able to live a normal life, just like before,” Byron said. “I was going to ranch, and I was going to go to college for agricultural business in the future. And that hasn’t changed. Not a single bit.”

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