DPT research assists accident survivor with recovery

Jeremy Gates can’t remember the car wreck that nearly claimed his life. But for the Burlington man, who undergoes physical therapy with Elon University DPT students and staff at Alamance Regional Medical Center, that’s not important. His desire to walk is another story.

Under the direction of Jane Freund, an assistant professor of physical therapy education, Gates has worked over the past year and a half with DPT students and ARMC staff using research-based treatments to “reroute” brain signals to his lower body.

A July 2006 wreck left Gates comatose for three months. At first, doctors never thought he’d leave a wheelchair, given the extent of his brain injuries. The Carolina basketball aficionado awoke without full control of his legs and trunk.

“I don’t know what happened exactly. I just know I woke up and I had broken all my ribs, my collarbone, my right arm,” he said. “I broke all the bones in my face and cracked my skull in three places.”

Progress has been slow if not steady. When he first came to Freund, Gates couldn’t stay balanced. He couldn’t judge how much force he was placing on each step. He had minimal strength in his legs, trunk or arms.

But his work ethic continues to amaze the people who have visited Alamance Regional Medical Center two or three times a week since late 2007 to work with him. Gates can now use crutches to walk, though he’s still always accompanied by family or friends when he leaves home.

“He had an amazing impact not only on the students but myself,” Freund said. “He really has taught all of us tremendous lessons, not only in physical therapy, but in life, in perseverance and overcoming great difficulties in his life and continuing to push on.”

Left to right: Angela O’Daniel, assistant professor Jane Freund, Jeremy Gates and Meagan Stobie work in tandem to assist Gates in his recovery from a July 2006 car wreck. O’Daniel and Stobie are third-year DPT students at Elon.

DPT students agree.

“I was kind of amazed,” said Angela O’Daniel, a third year DPT candidate. “I heard about the accident and everything he’s been through and just to see him come in and meet him, he’s just very upbeat and hardworking.”

Equipment used in the therapy sessions was funded in part by Elon University’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. In 2008, CATL provided $6,000 for a body weight support system, which assists patients experiencing neurological disorders.

Gates’ ultimate goal? “I want to be able to walk with a cane,” he said. “It’s probably going to take a while. But I didn’t think I’d walk with a walker …”

To watch a short video that talks of Gates’ progress, click on the link to the right of this page.

Jeremy Gates steps onto a treadmill at the Alamance Regional Medical Center, where he is assisted by Angela O’Daniel (in pink shirt) and Meagan Stobie, both third year DPT students.