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Believing in a way back: Returning to running after a spinal cord injury

If you saw John “Jed” Carman running up the soccer field coaching his son’s team, you would never know that he is newly recovered from a spinal cord injury.

If you saw John "Jed" Carman running up the soccer field coaching his son's team, you would never know that he is newly recovered from a spinal cord injury. His success story is one of the best that I have witnessed as a physical therapist at Magee.

Prior to his injury, Jedwas an avid triathlete and long distance runner who juggled two-hour workouts each day while maintaining a busy home and work life. His life changed forever early Sunday morning on September 23, 2012 when he had a severe accident while mountain biking. He is not sure if it was a tree root or rock that sent his bike for a tumble, but remembers waking just beside a creek unable to move his legs or left arm.

An hour later, a man walking his dog discovered him and immediately called 911 and Jed's wife, Julie. It took a biker friend that knew the trails to help the paramedics find him in the woods. The rescue team carried him 1/2 mile out of the woods and then to Crozier Chester to be stabilized. He was then taken to University of Pennsylvania where Dr. Neil Malhotra performed a cervical fusion for a C6-7 spinal cord injury.

Carman starting regaining movement in his legs several hours after the accident; however, he lost all feeling before his scheduled surgery that evening. The day following his surgery, he was already able to walk a short distance in the hospital hallway with assistance of a physical therapist.

After he left University of Pennsylvania, he spent 10 days at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital and then attended outpatient therapy at Magee Riverfront, where he attended physical and occupational therapy. Shortly upon leaving Magee RehabilitationHospital, he proudly met his first goal of trick-or-treating with his three children, walking the whole way—just five weeks after not being able to move his legs at all.

Carman recalls that being a patient at Magee was a very humbling experience for him, meeting many other patients who were not walking or recovering at the same speed. This taught him to not only appreciate his own progress, but to be understanding of what other people are going through and learn from them. He also credits his recovery to his family and to his positive attitude. "I don't give up," he said.The other key to his success was keeping weekly therapy goals on a spreadsheet to keep him on track.

In the short time that I had the pleasure of working with Jed in outpatient physical therapy at Magee, he never took his eyes off of his goals for a second.  It was never a question of 'if' he would return to running—only a question of 'when.'

John has not only returned to running, but is already able to run 10 miles, just eight months following his injury. He recently ran a 5K race to benefit his son's middle school at an impressive 6:37/mile pace.

Although Carman has returned to running and swimming, he is not sure when he will feel ready to ride his bike or snowboard again after the incredible fall that he took. His future goals are to continue to commit to fitness for physical and emotional health, complete another marathon and triathlon, as well as to volunteer.

Although he could not be more grateful for his recent athletic accomplishments, he remarks that his accident has taught him many valuable life lessons, including the importance of living in the moment and the power of prayer. His recovery has helped him put his non-stop 'I-can-do-it-all' personality in perspective. He takes time to enjoy the process more, with an even greater appreciation for his family.

He has a few words of wisdom for those recovering from an injury: "Have a strong support group and a positive attitude, and good things will come".

Here at Magee, we couldn't agree more.

Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness.