Courtney's Story

Courtney Kennedy after rehabilitation

Spinal cord injury

Courtney Kennedy was having a free-wheeling day riding through fields on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) with her fiancé Kellen. Her life changed instantly when the ATV rolled and Courtney was ejected.

She immediately knew something was very wrong, “I was on the ground, my legs didn’t work anymore and I couldn’t breathe.” Her left ankle and ten of her ribs were broken and both of her lungs had collapsed and were full of blood and fluid. In addition, she had a neck fracture and a T-10 burst fracture in her spine.

Kellen dialed 911 and told the operator that reaching them might prove difficult as they were in a remote field that lacked access for an ambulance. A Care flight helicopter was dispatched and Kellen and Courtney were forced to keep still and wait for those excruciating moments before help arrived.

Once in the emergency room, the team immediately assessed and began life saving treatment for Courtney, who was completely incapacitated. She could barely wiggle her big toe and had no feeling from the waist down. She had tubes inserted into her lungs to allow the fluid to drain out and underwent multiple breathing treatments.

Courtney was hospitalized for a month in both acute care and inpatient rehabilitation hospitals. Progress was slow and she often heard she might not walk again. Courtney didn’t accept that prognosis. Determined to walk again, no matter how long the journey, she chose the Day Neuro Program at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation (BSWIR) – Fort Worth to help her reach her goal.

The hospital became her home for the next eight months. With the unconditional support of her fiancé, family and rehabilitation team, Courtney began to write the recovery chapter of her story. It was hard, but her dedication was unwavering.

“You have to believe in yourself. People can tell you all day long that it’s going to be ok, but unless you believe in yourself, it’s not going to happen,” Courtney stated. “This isn’t something that gets better overnight or comes easily - you have to put in the work even on the bad days.”

Courtney worked tirelessly for weeks in physical therapy, first improving her independence on what she could do, like transferring in and out of her wheelchair. Focusing on her balance, exercises such as pelvic tilts and other core strengthening exercises helped Courtney regain the ability to balance while seated. She then set her mind toward walking. She took to yoga, and began several exercises with her physical therapy team to rebuild her strength. Four months after her accident, and with hard work, Courtney began to move her legs. She mentioned, a single quick movement of her left leg was the turning point in her recovery. “It gave more hope that things were waking up and coming back. The day I was told I could take my back brace off and wouldn’t have to come back unless something was wrong was exciting because it meant things were improving and really moving forward.”

Overflowing with optimism, she worked even harder, and grew stronger by the day. After her core strength was rebuilt, Courtney was able to stand and walking eventually followed.

Ten months after her accident, Courtney and her family celebrated as she walked out of BSWIR – Fort Worth just like she always knew she would. “I went from my lower half being completely obsolete to walking again. I’m able to do yoga, I’m able to drive, I have more independence. Every doctor I’ve seen said I would never walk again, but here I am,” she exclaimed.

Strengthened by her incredible triumph, she is excited to take on the next stage of her life and make more progress. She mentioned she is excited to, “Continue the journey that everyone said I would never be on. I still have parts of my body that are just now starting to wake up and respond, so you never know what’s to come.”

For others going through a similar situation, Courtney leaves this advice: “You have to believe in yourself. People can tell you all day long that it’s going to be ok, but unless you believe in yourself, it’s not going to happen. And you have to put in the work. This isn’t something that gets better overnight or comes easily, you have to put in the work even on the bad days. You have to be realistic with progress, it’s not all good days. But you still have be patient, fight through and work hard. Don’t give up."