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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Spinal cord injury survivor describes rehabilitation

April 21, 2017

Spinal cord injury survivor John Abkes, of Omaha, Nebraska, describes his rehabilitation experience as a patient at Madonna's Lincoln Campus and in outpatient at Madonna's Omaha Campus. 

“I had the privilege of going to occupational therapy…” he said as he detailed a typical day at Madonna's Lincoln Campus.

John describes his different therapies at Madonna, like occupational therapy, speech therapy and physical therapy, as opportunities and privileges because there was a time when it was thought they wouldn’t be possible.

“I guess when I had the accident some people didn’t believe that I would be able to stand or put weight on my feet or do anything at all and I actually have use of my legs, have a lot of use with my upper body.”

John was vacationing in Mexico with his family when a rogue wave slammed him into the ocean floor, causing an incomplete spinal cord injury.

Through a series of incredible events, he was flown to Methodist Hospital in Omaha before going to Madonna’s Lincoln Campus for inpatient rehabilitation.

“So I can say that when I got here, to Lincoln, the very first one was again I can move two feet and one finger. So you see a lot of the goals being met during that initial, I kind of saw a lot more progress as a patient coming out because I started to see limbs move. I started to see fingers move. I could raise my arms. All of that was absolutely super exciting.”

And eventually going home while continuing outpatient rehabilitation at Madonna’s Omaha Campus.

“When you get into outpatient therapy, especially with a lot of the occupational therapy with the arms and fingers, it goes slower, but it’s actually because this is more of the fine tuning. This is not just to get your arms to move. It’s to get coordinated, just get your balance back, be able to get all of the dexterity in your fingers. It’s actually as if it never happened.”

Part of that plan for getting home included a home assessment by an occupational therapist.

“I love home assessments because that’s what people are working so hard for – is to get home. That’s all that you hear from people all the time. ‘I just want to get home.’ And we want to make sure that the experience when they get home is excellent. So having it pre-planned, implementing the plan in a practice session, checking out the equipment, and when they go home they’re confident it’s going to be good. It’s going to be a smooth transition,” said Tabatha Sorenson, an occupational therapist at Madonna.

And the technology that helped along the way was the same at both of Madonna’s locations.

“As the therapists would give me different goals and new goals, I’d go from equipment to equipment, to equipment, so the equipment in Lincoln was absolutely outstanding and then to come to Omaha and really find that it’s the exact same. I didn’t have to relearn anything here. It was the exact same equipment for outpatient as I was using for inpatient.

It’s all part of a continuum of care to help John get back to his life roles.

“So I really saw Lincoln as getting me to the point that I could just get home. Now the outpatient in Omaha is to get me to the point that I can actually go back to work.”

With a team of expert clinicians guiding him

“Madonna’s been miracle workers for me. I could start listing off all the people involved in this. Madonna truly understands from the patient’s viewpoint, I think, how to care for us. How to treat us more of a person, not just a number or a case number. And Madonna really does understand what needs to be done. They have goals. It’s all laid out directly for us. Anything to do with rehabilitation, I would use Madonna as the gold standard.”

To learn more about occupational therapy, visit