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Gift of equipment helps teen push toward the future

April 01, 2022

Like most teenagers, Cyrus Lewis wants to go out with his friends. He loves hopping in a car with his buddies and heading out for an active adventure.

With help from donors to the Craig Foundation, Cyrus will receive a manual wheelchair that will make these types of outings easier—and serve as a powerful motivation as he recovers from his spinal cord injury.

Cyrus broke his C5 vertebra in November in a fall while early-season backcountry skiing in Silverton, Colorado.

“I passed out and woke up with my head in the snow,” he says. “I had to wait for two or three hours while my friends hiked out to call for help and for the mountain rescue team to respond.”

Cyrus was transported in a helicopter to a hospital in Grand Junction, then sent via airplane to Children’s Hospital in Denver. He had surgery to fuse his C4-C6 vertebrae and was in the intensive care unit for two weeks.

“When I first was sent to Children’s, I didn’t understand how bad my injury was, but even in the ambulance I was thinking that I’d never be able to walk again,” he says.

Coincidentally, Cyrus and his family were no strangers to spinal cord injuries. His dad had been a caregiver for a Craig graduate, and they have family and friends who work at Craig. It was an easy choice to come to Craig for rehabilitation.

When he first entered Craig, he met his care team and underwent initial evaluations.

“Everyone explained my test results well, and set goals with me,” he says. “I could see a picture of where I was at, and where I was going.”

Cyrus was fitted with a power wheelchair and started in physical, occupational, and recreational therapies right away. He was also introduced to the Teen Rehab at Craig program (TRAC), a specialized group of patients in the same age range.

“At first I didn’t want anything to do with it and I thought it was weird,” he says. “I didn’t think I needed a ‘support group,’ and I didn’t want to be forced to make friends.”

After a little convincing, he warmed up to the idea and enjoyed going on outings and hanging out with other teens. He worked with Laura Magnuson, Craig’s teacher, to keep on with his class assignments and earn the credits he will need to graduate from high school on time. In Therapeutic Recreation, he tried wheelchair rugby and adaptive gaming and learned how to transfer into a kayak. His rec therapist took him to Winter Park Resort to learn about the different types of sit skis he can use when he is ready to get back on the mountain.

Through all of his inpatient—and now during his outpatient—therapy, he has been focused on one overarching goal: using a manual wheelchair. According to Cyrus, he has always been concerned about his self-image and how he presents himself to others. “I feel like a manual chair is slicker, less obvious, and easier to maneuver than a power chair,” he says. “I’ll be able to transfer into and out of my friend’s cars and even manage stairs if needed.”

When Cyrus first came to Craig, he could barely move his arms and he has been working hard to strengthen his shoulders. “At first I could barely push around my room, then I moved to pushing the hallways and over the 2nd-floor bridge,” he says.

While Cyrus will also have a power chair on his therapist’s recommendation, he experienced delays and issues with Medicaid coverage for both of his chairs. He is currently using equipment borrowed from the Craig fleet.

“For Cyrus, the manual wheelchair represents the great progress he has made while in therapy here at Craig,” says Kelly Root, in Craig’s Wheelchair Seating and Positioning Clinic. “That includes so much more than just pushing from point A to point B.”

Kelly arranged for Cyrus to receive funding for a TiLite Aero T wheelchair through the Craig Foundation’s Project EQL fund. This fund, supported entirely by generous donors, ensures that every patient at Craig returns home with basic adaptive equipment that will maximize overall function, health, and life quality, regardless of the patient’s financial or insurance status. The fund provides durable medical equipment including wheelchairs, hospital beds, lifts, bathroom accessibility equipment, and assistive technology.

Kelly believes that having the manual chair is important to Cyrus’s self-esteem, and will help him continue to get stronger.

Cyrus is extremely grateful to receive the gift of the manual chair.

“People have to accept a lot of losses because of these injuries,” he says. “For someone who has had their whole world shaken, receiving assistance with equipment is a big win.”

Cyrus will soon finish outpatient therapy and move to Colorado Springs, where he will finish out his high school career. He plans to go to college in the area and get a job that will allow him to be financially independent. “SCIs are really expensive injuries,” he says. “I want to get a good job so I can support myself and buy the equipment I need.”

He believes that he will be set up for future success because of the help he has received.

“To have a chair of my own is completely life-changing, and really impactful.”

DONATE TO THE PROJECT EQL: EQUIPMENT FOR INDEPENDENCE FUND