Gwinn – “My biggest goal was to run. And Dr. Coccia, my surgeon, said–I live on a dairy farm–he said, ‘You’re never going to be able to chase cows again.’ And I said, ‘I bet you I’m going to be. I’m gonna be running,” recalls Emily DeVooght.
A 24-year-old famer from Gwinn, Emily DeVooght loves life on her dairy farm. She tends to animals, drivers the tractor and rides her horse. But one day in December that all literally and metaphorically slipped away from her.
“I was climbing up a ladder to the hay mow and the ladder came out from under me. I fell twelve feet down on concrete and I landed on my back,” she remembered. “And as soon as I fell, I couldn’t feel my legs.”
The fall and following surgery left Emily paralyzed from the waist down. Her prognosis for walking again wasn’t very good.
“One doctor gave me a fifty percent chance and one doctor said you probably won’t,” she said.
After 6 weeks of in-patient rehab at UP Health Systems Marquette and having only taken a few steps with some assistance, Emily began rehab at UP Health System Rehab Services at Sawyer. Her therapist was clinic director Kim Spranger.
Spranger remembers exactly what Emily’s condition was upon her arrival.
“Well, when she came in here she had a huge back brace on, two AFO’s (ankle foot orthosis braces) and she was sitting in a wheel chair. And, she had a platform walker to try to take a step with,” Spranger said.
After a month of more traditional rehab, Spranger’s son showed her the SpeedMaker, a device initially developed by Benga Adeeko of Elite Athlete Products Inc. to improve performance in sprinting.
Spranger knew right away it could serve another purpose.
“As soon as I saw it there was just this little light that went on and I went, ‘Wait a minute . . . this is for runners.” And her next thought as she explained to me, “Emily has this certain problem called Recurvatum that I thought maybe this would help her with that.”
So she brought the idea to Emily, and she was game to try it.
“My first words with Kim I said, ‘Hey, you never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “Let’s try it.”
What happened was remarkable. Emily became more stable. She had better balance and could work muscles more confidently and comfortably than she could before.
Spranger and her associates were amazed.
“We think–and I’ve had lots of physical therapists look at film that I have taken of Emily to say, ‘What is this thing doing?’ And we think it does some co-activation of muscles.” She continued, “We think it’s re-educating her muscles on how they’re supposed to work.”
And DeVooght began seeing real results.
“With the SpeedMaker, I can run with it. And without it I can’t run very good. I can take a few steps, but I’m running over a mile now with the SpeedMaker,” she said, after running through therapy exercises for an hour.
The two have even made custom adjustments to the SpeedMaker, working with the developers in the process. Through necessity, they may have helped invent a new treatment option for physical therapy.
Right now, Spranger estimates 30% of the clinic’s patients are using some form of the device to assist them walking. That’s a lot of good coming from the hard work and faith of a young girl and her inventive physical therapist.
Spranger praised DeVooght and their shared faith asking rhetorically,”When you put those things together . . . drive, perseverance, patience and faith . . . who knows where it will end?”
And through it all DeVooght has kept her positive attitude.
“Life does not suck,” she proclaimed. “There always can be worse things that can happen. And you just gotta make the most of it and keep going. Just keep going every day and if you work hard, you never know where you could be.”
The grind of three weekly rehab sessions with hours of side workouts will continue for Emily. But if you ask her therapist, every day a device-free future nears.
“Do I think Emily DeVooght will someday walk without any kind of brace to go do whatever she wants? I’m positive of it. because that’s just who she is.”
Said DeVooght, “I’ve had a few bad days, but I’ve never had one full terrible day the last seven months. I’ve never ever said, ‘ I’m not going to continue going. I’m not not going to keep trying.'”
And she will keep moving forward. She’ll put her head down and work towards that day when she can return to the farm at full strength to ride her horses, driver her tractor, and if she so chooses, chase some cows.