Kristi's Story

Kristi Cole smiling

Spinal cord injury

Kristi Cole, a 49-year-old IT project manager, had a successful career, a loving family and a zest for life. However, a sudden diagnosis of spinal stenosis, the narrowing of one or more spaces within the spinal canal, turned her world upside down.

Before her diagnosis, Kristi was an active individual. She had just been promoted to the manager of IT projects across her company, a remarkable achievement in her career. With a beloved dog named Harley, Kristi enjoyed gardening, watching horror movies, attending concerts and enjoying time with her nieces.

It all began when Kristi started experiencing numbness in her fingers, which gradually spread to her hands and legs. Initially attributing the symptoms to diabetes, she consulted her primary care physician. Surprisingly, the root cause of her symptoms was related to her spine.

Over the next year, Kristi underwent a series of treatments, including shots and medications, to alleviate the symptoms. However, this approach provided limited relief. An MRI revealed the devastating truth: spinal stenosis in her cervical column.

Kristi underwent a complex surgical procedure to fuse her C4-C7 vertebrae. The surgery led to complications, leaving her unable to feel her left leg and experiencing excruciating pain in her left arm. Her right arm felt dissociated entirely, with no sensation in her right hand. Struggling with weakness and severe headaches, Kristi's journey to recovery felt worlds away.

Despite encountering setbacks, including a cerebrospinal fluid leak and subsequent surgery, Kristi remained determined to rebuild her life. Kristi required specialized rehabilitative care to regain her lost strength and independence. Once she stabilized at the hospital, she chose Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation (BSWIR) – Fort Worth and its Day Neuro program for the next steps in her journey.

Upon arrival at BSWIR – Fort Worth, the physician-led rehabilitation team worked with Kristi to put a treatment plan in place. Her goals were simple: to walk again, gain independence and get back to using her hands.

Every therapy session played a vital role in her recovery. Physical therapy focused on getting her back to walking on her own. The first step was to regain the feeling in her hands and legs. Utilizing the e-stim machine to stimulate her arms and legs, the team centered on getting her brain to realize how to move her hands and legs again. In tandem, they took Kristi through a variety of stretches to help limber the muscles and joints, making her body more comfortable with the feeling of walking.

Occupational therapists focused on helping her regain feeling in her hands so she could relearn how to do self-care tasks like tying her shoes, buttoning a shirt, or pulling up her pants.

Indeed, Kristi's milestone moment came when she was able to pull up her pants on her own and upgraded from walking with assistance to walking with only supervision. "It really helped me with my independence," she said. "That was huge for me."

Kristi's family played an integral part in her recovery. Her mother, who moved in to care for her, was a pillar of strength throughout the entire process. The hospital's educational programs helped Kristi and equipped her family with the knowledge and skills to support her at home.

Kristi stated, "I am walking on my own without any device. My left hand is open and usable. There's some sensation loss and it gets fatigued, but I'm able to use it for everything. The dissociation in the right arm is gone and the right hand is usable. I'm tying my shoes now, which is huge, especially with the decreased sensation in my hands. I can put my hair in a ponytail, which is great. I'm really getting my independence back!"

Looking toward the future, Kristi eagerly awaits her return to work and longs to reunite with her colleagues. She expressed profound gratitude for the exceptional care and support she received at BSWIR – Fort Worth.

"It's great here. I love it here," Kristi exclaimed. "Everyone is so nice and supportive. Even when you're having a bad day and not doing so well, they are still so supportive. It really keeps your pity party in check to see other patients going through similar or worse things than you also."

Kristi offers these words of wisdom to those facing similar challenges: "Just listen to your therapists. Trust them. They have a plan! Let people help you. It can be hard, but it's so much more beneficial for you."