Words that were painted on the wall at Craig Hospital’s PEAK Center—“Redefine what’s possible”—were much more than words for Craig patient Michael Manhardt. In September 2018, Michael, 39, sustained a spinal cord injury from a falling tree, and once he started his rehabilitation at Craig, he took those PEAK Center words to heart. With surgery and time, he regained movement and strength in his arms and uses that movement to its full potential today.
“When it first happened, I went to a dark place. I thought I might never move again,” Michael says. “I never thought I would be paddling down a river. I never thought I’d be able to operate a manual wheelchair, let alone go up stairs or take myself out to breakfast a mile each way.”
Michael credits the team at Craig for never letting him settle. He remembers early on staring at his therapist in disbelief when he’d suggest an exercise or propose a far-reaching goal. From day one, people told him he would get stronger, that he would get better.
“The staff has seen it all. They’d say, ‘Okay, you have a C6 spinal cord injury. This is how it will work.’ That ability to empathize and understand so quickly—that’s the power of Craig. You build strong connections with staff and peers,” Michael says.
Michael’s drive matched that of his Craig therapists and caregivers. He was determined to challenge himself every day during rehab, often doing more than he was asked. He embraced every opportunity to improve, including outings with Craig’s Therapeutic Recreation program and Community Reintegration program. Like another set of words Michael saw on Craig’s walls, he practiced “unyielding determination.”
Therapeutic Recreation got Michael back to doing things he loves, like boating, gardening, pottery, handcycling, shooting skeet, scuba diving and kayaking—skills that will come in handy next summer when Michael plans to celebrate his 40th birthday kayaking through the Boundary Waters with family and friends in Minnesota.
As a self-employed engineer, Michael can work remotely from his home in Missoula, Montana, with his beloved dog Bodhi at his side. Craig's Assistive Technology Lab helped Michael set up his home office.
“Craig prepared me well for my computer work. I left Craig with adaptive equipment including voice-to-text software, a track ball and a special joystick that will let me do 3D computer modeling,” he says.
Michael still carries Craig’s inspirations with him, but he also lives by his own powerful words these days.
“I’ve made a pact with myself to focus on what I’m able to do, rather than what I’m no longer able to do,” he says. “I’ve been able to achieve more than I thought possible.”