Man with spinal cord injury benefits from specialized therapies, driver training

Covenant HealthOur Town Health

Delaney Estes of Knoxville was 30 years old when he suffered a tragic accident that caused a T10 and T11 complete spinal cord injury. Paralyzed “from the belly button down,” as he describes it, he now uses a wheelchair. But after surgery and rehabilitation at Covenant Health Therapy Centers, Estes has come a long way and has a new outlook on life.

He worked with Bethany Edmond, occupational therapist; Madison Ledbetter, physical therapist; and Nicole White, occupational therapist and certified driving rehab specialist,

Edmond says, “After his accident, Delaney had to learn how to maneuver his body to get in and out of bed, dress and bathe himself. Occupational therapy encompasses a lot of mental health as well as physical rehabilitation, so meeting him ‘where he was’ mentally in each session was important. We wanted him to feel supported and encouraged that he could live a very functional life again without the use of his legs.”

OT focuses on patient goals as they relate to daily roles and activities, or “occupations.” Through task analysis, OTs break down the subcomponents of tasks. Then they match compensatory/adaptive strategies and/or equipment to promote independence so patients can cognitively, emotionally or physically complete their tasks and goals.

Because Estes cannot feel or voluntarily move his lower body, he had to learn adaptive techniques to perform everyday activities. He admits wheelchair life has its challenges. “There were days I didn’t want to talk to people, especially during the time when I couldn’t get out of bed,” he recalls. Estes says getting to “a better mental place” required hard work and a lot of prayers. “I’m thankful I had my family and friends around me to help support me. I wouldn’t have made it through without them.”

After a lot of hard work in therapy, he gained flexibility and strength. He can now transfer in and out of his chair without assistance, as well as get up into his chair from the floor – two key milestones in gaining independence.

Ledbetter says, “Physical therapy can completely alter someone’s functional potential and feelings of self-efficacy after an event such as this. Delaney’s attitude and goals really facilitated his rehab. He demonstrated such great motivation and positivity. It was amazing to see him change in many ways. He continuously challenged me and always made therapy fun!”

She said many of the exercises she used with Estes were function-based. Therapist and patient worked on activities that helped his range of motion, aerobic activities for endurance, and upper body strengthening exercises. Other activities were related to his ability to transfer onto and off a variety of surfaces, manage his wheelchair and perform skills such as controlled falling and “righting” while using the chair.

Learn more at this link including:

  • Goals of occupational therapy
  • Goals of physical therapy
  • Therapies to help patients meet goals for independence and personal interests (like wheelchair basketball)
  • Getting “back on the road” with comprehensive driving program offered through Patricia Neal Center at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center.

During his sessions with Nicole White, Estes is learning to use hand controls to operate gas and brake pedals. After completing the program, he plans to obtain his own modified vehicle with equipment that he can use on his own.

“Working with OT, PT and the driving program has completely changed the game for me,” Estes says. “Before, I was mentally there, but so physically limited. The mobility was not there. Now, I can get myself in and out of bed, do my stretches and exercises, and I’m becoming more independent every day.”

Learn more about Covenant Health Therapy Centers and the Patricia Neal Comprehensive Driving Program.

Headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, Covenant Health is a community-owned, healthcare enterprise committed to providing the right care at the right time and place. Covenant Health is the area’s largest employer and has more than 11,000 compassionate caregivers, expert clinicians and dedicated employees and volunteers.


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