Returning to activities after a spinal cord injury

On the way to the grocery store during a camping trip in Pennsylvania, Zac Wolfe’s life changed forever when the driver of the single cab truck he was riding in overcompensated a turn causing the truck to hit an embankment and roll over. At 19 years old, he remembers going in and out of consciousness, face down on the road, after getting crushed under the weight of the flipped truck’s dashboard. Zac was life lifted to UPMC Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA and quickly learned he had a spinal cord injury.

“I remember thinking, I have no idea what a spinal cord injury is,” Zac says. “I thought I’d be ok in a few days.” Zac has a C5/6 injury.

Zac Wolfe

Zac grew up wrestling, driving 4-wheelers and spending a lot of time outdoors. He was an on-the-go type kid that had been hurt before and always bounced back. When Zac got to rehab after seven days in ICU, he couldn't sit up on the edge of the bed by himself. He realized he couldn’t do much by himself. For the first two weeks, therapists worked with him on rolling over in bed and transferring in bed. Zac was struggling, physically and mentally. He had no feeling or much movement over his entire body.

“Around the two-week mark, it hit me. I was the only one that could work on this situation and fix it.” He credits his time wrestling for helping him change his mindset and empower his body. “I had to make the situation better for myself.”

There were many bumps in the road transitioning home after two months in rehab. His parents’ two-story house wasn’t wheelchair friendly. They adapted their garage into Zac’s apartment and made it possible for him to get around in his wheelchair on the first floor. Zac continued his out-patient therapy at St. Mary’s, where they tried many techniques with him, including water therapy. He spent 3 ½ hours a day in outpatient therapy, plus another 3-4 hours at home, determined to gain his strength and some movement back.

“I was constantly just trying different things and I failed a ton. If I couldn’t do it at first, it became my goal that I worked toward. My disability wasn’t going to define me.”

The biggest goal Zac had was wanting to drive independently. He spent hours learning how to transfer from his wheelchair into a car. Hours falling. Hours getting stuck. Hours trying different ways to transfer. Dents in the car from maneuvering the wheelchair in once transferred. Zac has limited hand function and had to figure out how to get his wheels off and loaded in using the function he does have. One day, it clicked. He transferred and got his wheelchair into the car. He knew he’d be driving on his own, in the outdoors, again soon! This was a game changer for his mindset in recovery.

Like many after a spinal cord injury, Zac was hesitant to learn how to self cath. “Honestly, I didn't want to do it on my own; I couldn't bring myself to doing that at 19. I just didn't want to accept it.” Zac tried many catheters while in rehab, until another patient recommended the SpeediCath® catheter. His friend encouraged him to self cath because of the independence it would give him. Even with Zac’s limited hand function, he was able to open and maneuver the Speedicath® catheter on his own. He was able to use the thumbhole to open the catheters independently. “It became simple for me because I could open them on my own, they are pre-lubricated – which is a huge thing for me. I toss a few in my backpack, get my extender and hand wipes and I’m good to go.”

*Zac is a Speedicath® catheter user. Each person’s situation is unique, so your experience may not be the same. Talk to your healthcare professional about which product might be right for you. Prior to use, refer to product labeling for complete product instructions for use, contraindications, warnings and precautions.

Zac’s advice to someone newly injured or struggling with their new way of life is to learn how to transfer. “Transferring gives independence.”

Today, Zac spends much of his time outdoors – off-roading, Jeep riding and hand cycling. He founded Adaptive Outdoorz (on Instagram @adaptiveoutdoorz) and shares his experiences with all outdoor activities. He works fulltime for an automotive parts company in quality assurance. He spends his free time with his wife Brittany.

You can learn more about Zac on Instagram @zwolfe01 and find Adaptive Outdoorz @adaptiveoutdoorz.

Prior to use, refer to product labeling for complete product instructions for use, contraindications, warnings and precautions. Each person’s situation is unique, so your experience may not be the same. Talk to your healthcare professional about which product might be right for you.

03/04/2022

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