When Doug Henderson, 68, of Exeter, accidentally stepped off of a roof
on April 9, 2012, he had no idea that he would step into an entirely new
life and unique purpose. As he lay on the ground in the moments after
his fall, thoughts of Mary, his wife of 51 years flooded his mind, “How
am I going to take care of Mary?” Doug said.
Doug’s injuries were so severe – he had two shattered vertebrae,
15 broken ribs, a lacerated kidney and a damaged spinal cord – that
he was airlifted from Kaweah Delta to a level I trauma center in Fresno.
He was told that he would never have any movement or feeling from his
belly button down. He wrestled with the news for two days in his hospital
bed, but became determined to recover. He made his goal to walk again.
After six weeks in the hospital, Doug began rehabilitation and physical
therapy in Fresno because a Fresno therapist told him Kaweah Delta didn’t
treat spinal-cord injuries. After a month of driving to Fresno, the Hendersons
discovered that was incorrect; Doug could receive rehab and therapy at
Kaweah Delta, much closer to home. Ever since, Doug has been at Kaweah
Delta where he continues rehab and motivates other patients.
“It’s the best thing that has happened since the accident.
To go there and meet the people I’ve met and to work with them,”
said Doug, who’s done everything from therapy in a gym to a pool
at Kaweah Delta Rehabilitation Hospital.
When Doug began working with Robert Dahill, a Physical Therapist for Kaweah
Delta Outpatient Rehabilitation Services, a relationship formed that went
beyond physical therapy. With Robert’s guidance, Doug worked on
rebuilding his muscles and has regained feeling from his legs to his feet.
“Robert is as good as they get. He listens. He always checks in
before jumping in. He asks what I want to do and he understands where
I’m at,” Doug said.
Doug’s determination, along with the pair’s rapport, led Robert
to call on Doug when he had a patient who had shut down, emotionally and
physically. Doug interacted with the patient, showed what he was capable
of, and continued to mentor and motivate the patient, who eventually made
a full recovery.
That was just the first of dozens of interactions that Doug has had with
Kaweah Delta rehabilitation patients, and others locally, on their road
to recovery. For motivating and inspiring others, Doug was
recently awarded Kaweah Delta’s “Rehab Candidate of the Year
Award.” The recognition caught Doug off guard, but his physical
therapist said it was well-deserved.
“Doug has a vast pool of life experience, and he can connect with
people on many levels,” Robert said.
Along with helping to inspire patients, Robert and Doug have established
a monthly support group for spinal cord survivors at the rehabilitation
hospital. “Some of the people I work with don’t have the support
like I had so when they start seeing support, it kind of gets their attention,”
Doug said. “Once you get their attention, you don’t have to
ask for it again. It’s like they wake up and get it.”
Doug goes the extra mile to help patients with court appearances, access
to needed physical therapy equipment, and talking about sensitive issues,
like bowel and bladder issues after spinal-cord injuries. “I don’t
lie or glamorize it. I answer their questions and tell them what has worked
for me,” Doug said.
There’s no doubt about it, Doug’s wife Mary says, he is a motivator
for people with disabilities.
“He tells them, ‘See what I can do? You know what I used to
be able to do? Nothing. So it can be done,’” she said. “He
just has a way with people.”
Doug has lost count of the people that have helped him along the way: there’s
his therapist, his wife and his children, and countless others, but he’s
needed every one of them. To date, Doug still spends about an hour every
morning doing a therapy program on his own before he starts his day.
While the road to recovery is long, Doug keeps up his motivation and strength,
always working toward his goals and always willing to help others towards
theirs. And while Doug and Mary’s life isn’t the same as it
was before the fall, they have a new life. They recently checked an item
off their bucket list - a 10-day cruise to Alaska after celebrating their 55th anniversary – and they say they are looking forward to checking
off more items soon.
Spinal Cord Injury Group
* Third Wednesday of the month, 5 p.m., Kaweah Delta Rehabilitation Hospital - Gym