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Michael Phelps' Road to Recovery

"My experience with Kate and the physical therapy team has been extremely special. People in Fremont tend to think they have to go to Omaha for great rehabilitation services. “With such excellent care right here in Fremont, there’s no reason to drive that far.”
—Michael Phelps

When a motorcycle accident left 54-year-old Fremont resident Michael Phelps paralyzed, Fremont Area Medical Center’s Rehabilitation Center helped him regain his independence.

In October 2010, Phelps was riding a dirt bike on a remote unpaved road outside of Fremont when his front wheel caught in a deep hole, catapulting him over the handlebars. He landed on his head, fracturing vertebrae in his neck and lower back and breaking six of his ribs. The accident left Phelps paralyzed from his chest down, drifting in and out of consciousness, and struggling to breathe as his lungs filled with blood and fluid. Unable to move or reach his cell phone to call for help, he lay motionless until the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office located him around 9 a.m. the following day by triangulating his cell phone’s signal.

Phelps was immediately airlifted to Omaha, where he was stabilized and transferred to several different hospitals to begin a long and bumpy journey to recovery. After emergency spine surgery, Phelps experienced multiple complications that delayed his recovery for several weeks. When he was finally discharged in March 2011, he was heavily dependent on his wife and two children for assistance with daily tasks.

Making a New Start

Phelps’ accident may have left him paralyzed, but it also instilled him with renewed determination to enjoy time with his family and friends. After completing initial in-home therapy, he began searching for nearby outpatient rehabilitation centers, but soon discovered many of the facilities in the area were unable to help him.

“Originally, I looked at a center in Omaha and several in Fremont,” Phelps says. “But they told me they would not be able to take care of me because I am a paraplegic.”

However, things were different when Phelps visited FAMC’s Rehabilitation Center. When Phelps met Physical Therapist Kate Kuester, he knew right away that they could work together effectively.

“I knew it was a good fit right away,” he says. “The Center is spacious, open, and filled with sunlight. Everyone on staff remembered my name and went out of their way to help me.”

Overcoming Challenges

When Phelps began his therapy at the Rehabilitation Center in July 2011, he had ambitious goals. He wanted to start using a manual wheelchair instead of a powered one. He wanted to balance himself on the edge of his bed. Ultimately, he wanted to learn how to transfer himself from his wheelchair into a car.

“When we developed Michael’s therapy plan, we talked about how his life had changed,” Kuester says. “We discussed his daily care and the tasks he needed to do at home, and how we could help him to regain his independence.”

Through teamwork and creativity, Kuester and Phelps worked closely together with other physical therapists at the Rehabilitation Center to turn his goals into reality. Phelps strengthened his upper body using a hand pedal bike, weights, and bands. He developed his balance until he could sit on the edge of a bed without assistance. He learned how to use a slide board device to transfer himself out of his electric wheelchair. He can now use a manual wheelchair, which allows him the ability with assistance to access the community and other homes where a ramp is not available.

“Since we started his therapy, Michael’s sitting balance has improved greatly and he no longer needs physical assistance with the slide board he uses to transfer from his wheelchair,” Kuester says. “His confidence has increased dramatically as well. We have him set up with a home fitness program and successfully transferred him to the FAMC Wellness Center to continue his exercise.”

Close to Home

Phelps developed a bond with Kuester and the Rehabilitation Center staff during his road to recovery. For him, it was an emotional day when he completed his therapy regimen in March 2012.

“My experience with Kate and the physical therapy team has been extremely special. People in Fremont tend to think they have to go to Omaha for great rehabilitation services,” Phelps says. “With such excellent care right here in Fremont, there’s no reason to drive that far.”

From physical therapy to sports medicine, the FAMC Rehabilitation Center offers comprehensive services for patients recovering from surgery, illness, injury, and chronic conditions. To learn more, call (402) 727-3329.