From mountain biking to rafting to rock climbing, Vince Ruggeri loves the Colorado lifestyle.
But when he sustained a spinal cord injury in a fluke ski accident in March, he thought his days of adventuring in the mountains were over. He even thought he’d have to move back to his home state of Pennsylvania.
“I was certain that all of those things were done, that I’d never ride my bike again or go camping,” says Vince. “I knew there were good hospitals on the east coast, so I figured I’d have to just leave my life here.”
But everything changed when Vince learned about Craig Hospital and met Rob, a former Craig patient who came to talk with him while he was in the ICU.
“That visit changed my whole outlook on this injury,” says Vince. “He said that with Craig, I’d get better and do all those things again, even if it was a bit different.”
Rob told Vince about the various programs at Craig and the community partners that would help him get back to doing what he loved.
“That was the first time that I saw a light at the end of the tunnel, and I saw that it wasn’t life over, it was just life…altered,” says Vince.
Vince’s first few weeks at Craig were “really hard and scary” as he began to understand his injury and the challenges that go along with paralysis, especially new routines for bowel and bladder management.
“The nurses and the staff blew me away, and they were very calming and helped me get used to talking about and dealing with these things,” he says.
Vince’s family members stayed in Craig’s Family Housing apartments and took shifts being with him during his rehab sessions. After a few weeks, he began to feel more confident in getting around, and was able to get a pass to move freely throughout Craig’s campus.
“Just being able to get outside and see the trees starting to bud and enjoy the sunshine with people I loved was so healing,” says Vince.
In addition to his physical and occupational therapy, Vince began working with therapists in the donor-funded Adaptive Driving program. “Getting around was a big fear I had, but it was really fun learning to use hand controls and get back out there.”
Through the program, Vince learned about the vehicle adaptations he would need, and traded his old SUV in for something that he could easily drive independently.
He also worked with the Therapeutic Recreation department to try out adaptive mountain bikes.
After four weeks of rehabilitation, Vince discharged on a Friday afternoon. The next week, he returned to Craig to borrow a bike to tackle one of his favorite Colorado rides, Waterton Canyon.
“A lot of people have ways to clear their heads, like medication or yoga,” says Vince. “Riding is that for me—I get into a rhythm and mentally clear my head. Being back on a bike took away my worries and concerns.”
Capitalizing on the confidence he had gained on the bike, Vince plunged back into his active lifestyle, riding, attending concerts, and even traveling across the country to attend Lollapalooza music festival. He often reaches out to Craig’s community of peer mentors—former patients like Rob—to learn practical tips and tricks.
He’s also back to work full-time. His employer worked with Craig’s Community Reintegration program to make workplace adaptations Vince needed to be comfortable on the days he is in the office.
Vince believes it’s donor-funded programs like Driving, Therapeutic Recreation and the Peer Mentor program that have helped him adapt to his injury and see a future for himself.
“Now I have my hobbies and my career back,” he says. “Donors are the reason that my life hasn’t really changed.”
On Colorado Gives Day, December 7, you have a chance to DOUBLE the hope and healing for Craig patients like Vince thanks to a $100,000 Compassion Challenge made possible by a grateful patient and his family!