Fort Worth native Josh Blackmon, 37, is passionate about motorized sports and values family time. While on vacation, he had to carry his eight-year-old son down 30 flights of stairs during an emergency evacuation. Upon reaching the bottom, he lost sensation from the waist down and fell. He later regained feeling but lost it again during a gas stop. When he returned home, a trip to the doctor’s office confirmed collapsed discs from L4-S1 and over 18 vertebral fractures.
Urgent surgery didn’t provide immediate relief. Josh woke up unable to feel anything from the waist down, except for the bottoms of his feet, which he described as feeling “crushed.” Uncertainty, inconclusive tests and emotional difficulties marked the days to follow.
Discharged to an inpatient rehabilitation facility, Josh remained for three days until an incident occurred where he ended up on the floor, which resulted in a large clot, or a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), in the femoral vein in his leg. A few days later, he had another surgery to remove his DVT, which was successful. At this point, he was also diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder in which a person’s immune system attacks the nervous system, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. He was treated while in the hospital.
Once stabilized, Josh transferred to Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation - Fort Worth, where he would begin his inpatient rehabilitation journey. Initially, he required maximum assistance for basic tasks like getting out of bed and self-care. This caused Josh to become emotionally distraught, as he had to “face the facts that his life had been completely altered.” He recalled, “As someone who loves all aspects of life, I had never had to deal with the emotions of just wanting my life to be over. But my therapists in inpatient therapy really helped me to cope and get past that.”
During his inpatient therapy, Josh made remarkable progress, gaining independence in tasks such as transfers, showering and using the bathroom. Although he still lacked feeling from the waist down and voluntary use of his legs, he developed the drive to continue his therapy at home, where he began to crawl, and then continued at the Fort Worth Day Neuro Program to progress further.
Day Neuro brought about transformative experiences for Josh. Through various therapies and activities, including boxing and exercises tailored to his needs, he steadily regained strength and mobility. “I love boxing with recreation therapy. It was so hard but fun. When I first started boxing, it took about five therapists to accomplish, but now it is just my OT guarding me and my recreational therapist directing the punches. It was great because it was a therapy that I could see and mark my progress weekly.”
The weight he had lost during his injury began to be replaced with muscle, gradually helping him to progress with walking. “In Day Neuro, my first day, I could barely stand even with max assistance. I had to tie my legs together with a band to keep them in a normal position. Now, I can walk with forearm crutches and have gained about 25 lbs. of muscle in my legs. I’m driving and am in the process of starting a new job. I’ve learned a lot from this experience,” he stated.
Josh’s turning point came when he took his first steps with a walker, a milestone that instilled a renewed sense of hope. He mentioned this milestone helped him realize, “Alright, I can beat this.”
The support of his family played an indispensable role in Josh’s recovery. His wife, Tori, assumed the responsibilities he once held. Their sons, too, grew in patience and developed a deeper respect for people with disabilities.
As Josh prepared to bid farewell to the hospital, he planned to return as a volunteer and peer mentor, offering support and encouragement to others facing similar challenges.
Reflecting on his overall rehabilitation experience, Josh describes it as transformative. “It’s been a good journey,” Josh mentions. “Starting out with this journey, I was extremely depressed and anxious, which are feelings I was not used to. It was never an emotion I had to deal with before. But going through this has been tough. I’ve really come out stronger. If I can face this, I can face anything. I thank God for this process. It sucked, but it’s made me a better man.”
To individuals and families navigating their own recovery paths, Josh offers this advice: “Keep your faith, know that this is a process and it takes time, but in the end, it is worth it and it will get better. You may not get to exactly where you thought you would be, but you’ll get better. It’s okay to feel the things you are going through and it’s okay to be upset and frustrated by them, as long as you pick yourself back up and continue to move forward.”