Spinal cord injury
“I had a freak accident,” said Roel Benavides.
But this was not any freak accident. It was one that caused Roel a severe, complete spinal cord injury.
“I was under my truck, checking to see what was wrong and it rolled back on me,” said Roel. His truck crushed and dragged him, his body folding underneath the vehicle. Unbelievably, Roel remained conscious as the truck rolled to a stop. The 31-year-old barber from Brownsville, Texas, husband and father of three – was trapped in agony.
“When I tried to get up, my legs wouldn’t work,” Roel explained. “It was like they were glued to the ground.”
Roel was rushed to Valley Regional Medical Center in Brownsville where he was admitted to the ICU and doctors confirmed his debilitating injury. Soon, he was flown to San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC) where he would stay nearly a month before being transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston.
“I was at SAMMC over Christmas, New Years and my birthday,” Roel recounted. “While I was there my mom died...it was the worst month.” Roel and his TIRR care team pushed to advance focusing on Roel’s mobility and bowel and bladder management. After two months in TIRR, Roel was discharged home.
He quickly embraced home therapy exercises, even turning to YouTube for guidance and motivation. Seeing others with the same challenges, Roel was deeply inspired.
Putting his ingenuity and fighting spirit to work, Roel built his own knee-ankle-foot orthosis (KAFO) device – a brace meant to support the muscles and joints of his legs – out of PVC pipes. Soon, a family friend shared a video of Roel and his custom KAFO device with the rehabilitation team at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation (BSWIR) – Fort Worth.
Upon hearing Roel’s extraordinary story, the BSWIR team met with Roel and his wife, Linda. “Baylor agreed to give me a two-week trial,” he recalled. The trial period was meant to measure Roel’s ability to rehabilitate at BSWIR. However, the trial was made permanent by the BSWIR team on day one.
His care team put a plan in place to help Roel reach his goal of regaining his independence, returning to work and getting back to hugging his kids. Roel acknowledged the journey would be difficult. “I’ve learned that I need the patience to live life one day at a time,” he said. “To not get ahead of myself and just worry about today.”
To incorporate some familiar aspects into his daily routine, Roel’s rehabilitation team wove his barber skills into therapy. “About twice a week I would cut hair while using the standing frame,” he said. Roel pushed hard, flashing his determination to be up on his feet as often as possible. “Anything where I’ve been working on the floor and moving down there has been a big challenge for me,” Roel said of his physical therapy. “But it’s been good.”
Roel also had high praise for his BSWIR team: “I was shocked when I started gait training with a walker. My therapists had me start that on my second day here, and I didn’t expect to be able to do it or for it to happen so fast.”
Roel continued, “I’m so grateful for the staff here who have stayed optimistic through all of this and have lifted me up on my bad days."
Family was also a core motivator. “My wife Linda has been my biggest support. A true warrior. She is sacrificing everything to be with me through all of this.”
With solid support and hard work, Roel attained lasting results: “I have more mobility, more independence and more flexibility. I’m doing yoga and even able to do downward dog with the help of my therapists.”
“Trust the process,” is Roel’s advice for those beginning rehabilitation or struggling to continue. “Keep your head up. You’ve just got to keep going and keep pushing.”
“I felt like I had a purpose again,” he explained. “Like I had a future again.”