Preparing for his junior year of high school, 17-year-old Creighton Mason-Schmidt looked forward to the upcoming football season and spending time with his friends. Then, a June car accident changed his plans.
“I was in a terrible car accident where I rolled my truck and I now have a T7 spinal cord injury and had a brain injury,” Creighton said.
In the beginning, the Mulvane, Kansas teen struggled with the emotions that come with a catastrophic injury. He says the hardest part was relying on others to care for him.
“To have this situation happen so abruptly, I think that creates its own set of challenges,” Megan Schmidt, Creighton’s mom, said. “Having to relearn everything you’ve known about yourself your whole life, you’re thrown into this tragedy.”
After a month in the intensive care unit at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis hospital in Wichita, Kansas, Creighton came to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals’ specialized pediatric spinal cord injury program. He was weak, relying on a tracheostomy tube to breathe and Madonna staff to lift him. Paralyzed from the waist down, Creighton also adapted to using a wheelchair.
“When we first started working with him, he was unable to do any sort of movement on his own,” Bailey Leversee, PT, DPT, Creighton’s physical therapist, said. “He wasn’t able to sit up. It took two people to help him sit up and two people to help transfer him. He really needed a lot of help when he got here.”
From the beginning of his recovery, Creighton set out to become completely independence. His spunky personality and determination proved helpful.
“During one of our first sessions, he said to me that he didn’t want someone to dress him,” Lauren Cox, OTD, OTR/L, Creighton’s occupational therapist, said. “He was upset about that, but then he had the motivation to get to be independent by the time he left here. That kind of stuck in my head throughout his whole stay, was just getting him back to being independent and being a teenage boy and doing the things that he loves.”
Creighton’s care team soon showed him how he could return to his favorite activities, like fishing and driving, in new ways. He went on several community outings to build his confidence, and used Madonna’s driving simulator to practice using hand controls. His care team helped him establish a plan and timeline to safely get back behind the wheel, from the simulated experience to a future driving test through Madonna’s Driver Retraining program, which provides abilities assessment, driving evaluation and adaptive equipment and training.
Madonna’s Independence Square, an onsite simulated community, offered him the chance to problem solve and learn new ways of doing laundry, cooking and getting in and out of a car. This chance to simulate real-world experiences proved crucial for Creighton.
“The thing that made me the most successful was the people around me, all the nursing and therapists helping me get back to doing all the things I used to do, just finding a new way to do it,” he said. “They teach you the easiest way and the safest way to do things and are there to talk you through it.”
As he got stronger, Creighton’s personality began to shine. He had inside jokes with therapists and special handshakes with other pediatric patients. His care team harnessed his sass to push him in therapy.
“Creighton is the type of kid who isn’t going to say ‘no’ to a challenge, which is why he progressed as well as he did and was able to accomplish so many things here,” Cox said. “I think his personality helped carry him.”
Cox says preparing teenagers and young adults for life with a spinal cord injury can be hard and oftentimes, depends on the patient themselves.
“I think preparing Creighton for his injury, a big factor was him,” Cox said. “He was very accepting of the injury early on. Accepting in the sense that he still had hard days and still had a lot of mixed emotions about that, but he was willing to work towards anything and everything that we threw at him to increase his independence and increase his ability to be a teenage boy.”
His mom adds that she’s impressed by her son’s ability to find the humor in every situation.
“Conversations that I think are going to be really hard or things I think are going to be a devastating blow to a 17-year-old boy, he has always found a way to spin it into a positive,” Schmidt said. “It’s hard to see these challenges that he’s facing, but I’ve just been really proud of the way he’s taken everything in stride and he handled it so well.“
Meanwhile, Creighton takes everything one day at a time. He hopes he can share his story and provide encouragement to others, especially kids who may be in a similar situation.
“If I can crack jokes in awkward or hard situations, that personally just helps me out through it all,” he said. “You just have to keep a positive attitude and just do it. I’d rather make jokes than sit around and cry.”
Throughout his recovery journey, people from his community have been cheering Creighton on, wearing red #CreightonStrong shirts with his beloved truck on them. Having community support both at Madonna and back in Kansas has been special, his mom says.
“I think it’s been incredible to have so many people behind us and supporting us,” Schmidt said. “You need your community, friends, family, therapists, and your team behind you. This isn’t a situation anybody ever wants to be in, but it makes you feel a little bit less alone when you have so many people behind you.”
After returning home to Kansas, Creighton and his family hope to pay it forward and provide support for future Madonna patients by volunteering as peer mentors.