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Patient Determined to “Win the Day” in Rehabilitation at Craig

October 03, 2019

Chris Barkley lives the New York Yankees' motto of "win the day." He always liked the saying and even used to have it displayed on a light-up sign in his home as a fun conversation starter. However, it wasn't until he got to Craig Hospital that he truly embraced it as his own. The saying fit his determination to maximize his movement after sustaining a spinal cord injury in a ski accident.

“While I was in rehab, my dad was packing up my townhouse. He saw the sign and told me to 'win the day' in rehab. From then on, it stuck,” says Chris.

At Craig, Chris never said no. When his physical therapist asked for another 10 minutes on the FES bike, he did it. When they gave him a snorkel and put him on his stomach in the pool, he swam.

“I refuse to let this injury define what I am able to do. A Craig psychologist told me to turn my spinal cord injury into a challenge rather than let it be a defeat. I took those words to heart,” Chris says.

Chris is grateful every day for the movement he has regained in his upper body. He worked hard to strengthen his arms and shoulders, turning that newfound strength into independence. He went on multiple outings with Craig’s Therapeutic Recreation program, where he learned how to get on and off public transport, explored downtown in his wheelchair, transferred in and out of cars, got in and out of boats, and went on nature and fishing outings with Craig’s all terrain wheelchairs. He and his dad, Scott, also took advantage of Craig’s Soft Landing program, which allowed them to live in an apartment on-site and learn how to handle daily living needs with Craig’s Occupational Therapy team.

“We felt 100% confident when we got home,” Chris says.

After his skiing accident in Idaho where he skidded on an uneven Cat track, Chris received five surgeries on his neck and spine. The ICU’s neurosurgeon pulled his dad aside and said he needed to do whatever he could to get to Craig.

“Craig understands how hard you can work and they structure your days and outings to help you push yourself,” Chris says. “My long-term goal is to propel myself in a manual chair. They took that goal and got to work, even filming my outpatient therapy so I could show my new physical therapist at home in Spokane.”

With Peer Mentor Specialist Erik Hjeltnes

One program expanded Chris’s “win the day” philosophy to impact others: Craig’s Peer Mentor program. Craig graduates and others living in the community with spinal cord injury serve as mentors to current patients.

“I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for my mentors at Craig. They opened my eyes to giving back,” Chris says.

Chris is committed to becoming a mentor and helping others find resources and hope for the future. He registered as a Craig peer mentor in his hometown, and he’s applied to do the same with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Once accepted, he can also apply at his local hospital.

Chris is determined to win the day, even with adaptive skiing. While in Denver, he connected with the High Fives Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the dreams of injured outdoor action sports athletes. Now that he’s home, Chris is working hard to meet his strength and movement goals.

“They told me when I’m ready to get back on the mountain, they’ll help me,” he says. “I can’t wait.”