When a tragic vacation accident left an athletic teen paralyzed, many people assumed his dreams were over. But Brandon, a 30-year-old social worker at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, is living the dream he always wanted to live ─ helping others.
“Quadriplegics are some of the strongest individuals you’ll ever meet!” he said. “We have dreams, goals and aspirations just like anyone else: We just roll toward them, instead of walking toward them.”
His super-positive attitude is hard to miss and impossible to dismiss. As the only quadriplegic social worker in the Neuro-Specialty Rehabilitation Unit at Intermountain Medical Center, Brandon brings a unique perspective to patients who suddenly find themselves paralyzed, depressed and confused.
“When I roll into the room of a patient who has just became quadriplegic, I gain instant respect and they feel instantly understood. That’s why I love being a social worker in the rehab unit, because I’ve been there and that’s why I’m here,” he says.
Brandon was an 18 year old “nature boy,” known for exploring canyons, tubing down rivers, and fly-fishing for the catch-of-the-day. While vacationing with his family and friends at Lake Powell, he decided to race his friends down a sand hill. He slipped and dove prematurely into shallow water. “My life changed within seconds and I found out then how much I took life for granted,” he says. He broke his C-5, C-6 vertebrae and became a quadriplegic with barely any movement in his arms.
Physical therapy and occupational therapy were difficult and humbling for him. The arduous task of increasing mobility in his arms and hands, learning to use a voice-activated word processor, and just taking care of personal hygiene was a painfully slow process. “I learned really quick during my 75 days in rehab that the more fully I vested myself in therapies, the more I would get out of them,” he said.
“I can’t tell you how ecstatic I was when I could finally feed myself again,” he adds. “You learn to treasure the smallest victories.” After rehab, Brandon became a regular feature around the unit, as the unofficial morale officer for other patients, as well as their cheerleader. He attended college, earning a bachelor’s degree in hospital health services administration and a master’s degree in social work. After more than a decade of work and service, he landed his dream job in the unit that had become his second home.
“While my condition would be a perceived weakness in other jobs, it has become my greatest asset in this job,” he says. “Besides, it’s just a great place to work. Our team consistently ranks among the highest for patient satisfaction in the nation.” Indeed, a 2008 JCAHO Survey, showed that Intermountain Medical Center averaged higher in every category for increasing patient functionality than the national average. However, numbers can only tell part of the story. The proof is in Brandon’s interactions with his patients.
“It’s huge. It’s just huge to see someone in my shoes,” says one patient about Brandon. “Every time I see Brandon, I have questions on the top of my mind. Wheelchair stuff, dealing with pressure sores, how to do little things, even how to go to the bathroom.”
The rehabilitation team includes: case managers, physician specialists, psychologists, dieticians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, rehabilitation nurses, respiratory therapists, social workers, speech therapists, therapeutic recreation specialists, and support personnel.
“It’s very much a team process,” says Brandon. “I’m incredibly grateful to be on this team and to give back to others.”