Miraculous Recovery Allows PTA to Return to Work
Life can change in a blink of the eye, and sometimes the therapist becomes the patient. No one knows that quite like Joe Szaloy, PTA.
Joe started his job with RehabVisions at Dan C. Trigg Memorial Hospital in Tucumcari, New Mexico in January 2018. On February 28, 2018 he was leaving the local high school after doing follow-up on basketball players he had previously treated. Joe headed home on his motorcycle and was hit from behind. He went head-first into a concrete wall. The motorcycle was totaled and Joe was life-flighted to a hospital in Amarillo, Texas.
“Nursing, emergency staff, EMS, everyone at Trigg did an amazing job preparing me to get to Amarillo,” he said. “Even Megan and Sarah were involved.” (Rehab Director Megan Rooney, PT and Office Manager Sarah Hittson).
In Amarillo, Joe went through his first of two emergency brain surgeries and was in a medical-induced coma for a month. His first conscious memory after the accident was in the first week of April. The prognosis wasn’t good. His family had been told he’d probably spend six months to a year in the hospital, not be able speak or live independently, and would most likely spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
Joe spent the next three weeks of care and therapy at Vibra Rehab Hospital in Amarillo, receiving three hours of PT and OT per day. He then went for more extensive therapy at TLC (Transitional Learning Center) in Lubbock, Texas. This involved PT, OT, speech therapy, group discussions, weekly MD and neuropsychologist assessments.
In late May, Joe got 100% clearance from physicians and was discharged with no medications. He went back to his home in Odessa, Texas on May 25. On May 29, a short three months after this major accident, Joe was again treating as a PTA!
Joe credits faith, hope and an “extreme support network” from family, friends, co-workers and his church for his amazing turnaround. But an experience like this one changes a person. Upon returning to work with a former employer in Odessa, Joe soon realized his heart wasn’t there, and he wanted to return to Tucumcari. He started talking to RehabVisions again. “They had replaced my position, which of course they should have, so we were discussing other locations.” But by some twists of fate, Joe went back to Dan C. Trigg Memorial Hospital on October 22.
He said he can’t tout RehabVisions enough. “Of course, a good portion of my information came after the fact and after recovering to a degree, but I came to realize that RehabVisions were not only concerned about me as an employee, but as a person, friend, and even, as I consider, family.” He also pointed out Megan and Sarah in Tucumcari and said several other home office employees showed great care initially and throughout his recovery.
“When I contacted RehabVisions wishing to explore possibly returning, the welcome I received was absolutely touching and amazing from a personal and professional standpoint,” he said.
Joe said the accident has changed him as a therapist. “I’m not the one to be sympathetic,” he said. “It’s a small town, everyone knows about the accident, so when I tell them that was me, I say ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’”
He has also been on a motorcycle again and recently went to a bike rally in Taos, New Mexico. He said he asks people, “If you fall, do you walk again? If you get in a car accident, do you drive again? I got back on that horse.”
Joe became emotional as he talked about how the accident also dramatically changed him as a person. “The clarity of life came so fast,” he said. “I used to be more withdrawn with my thoughts and feelings, but not anymore.”
“I just want to do the best for my patients and the people I work for because in a millisecond life can change and you don’t get it back.”