Text size:

Thanks to Memorial, Teen Paralyzed in Diving Accident is Walking Again

After Phillip accidentally dove into a sandbar off Dania Beach last year, the 18-year-old was left paralyzed with a broken neck. His family feared the worst.

Seven weeks later, following treatment at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Phillip walked out of the hospital on his own two feet.

"I was lucky," says Phillip, whose treatment at Memorial included surgery to repair his spinal cord and intensive physical therapy. "The care was above and beyond anything I could have asked for."

The traumatic spinal-cord injury presented many challenges, says Greg Zorman, MD, Chief of Neurosurgery for Memorial Healthcare System, who treated Phillip in the emergency room and performed surgery on his spine the next morning.

"The immediate challenge was to temporarily stabilize his spine in head tongs and a Rotorest bed to prevent any further damage to the cord by aligning the fractured bones in his neck," Dr. Zorman says.

During surgery, Dr. Zorman used a piece of cadaver forearm bone as a graft to replace the shattered C-7 vertebra at the base of Phillip's neck. The C-6 vertebra just above had a minimal fracture. The surgery was successful.

"Dr. Zorman saved my life," Phillip says. "He absolutely saved my life."

Still, it was unclear whether Phillip would walk again. Initially, he had no motor function. He couldn't feed himself or lift a fork, says Alan Novick, MD, Medical Director of Rehabilitative Services for Memorial Healthcare System.

"At first, their goal at the hospital was to have him functional using a wheelchair," says Elisa, Phillip's mother.

With hard work and encouragement from his physical therapist, Phillip pushed himself during rehabilitation. Within weeks, he took his first steps using the parallel bars.

"Sometimes if I wanted to sleep or I didn't want to go to rehab, they'd wake me up and encourage me along," Phillip says. "By the time I left the hospital, I actually felt they were good friends of mine. They made the best of a bad situation. They made it feel like home."

The staff helped his family throw a party for Phillip in the hospital on his 18th birthday.

"These were big things because it helped motivate him," Elisa says.

Remarkable Recovery

Today, life is "almost completely back to normal," says Phillip, who began his freshman year of college this fall.

"His recovery was remarkable given the severity of the injury and his initial dense paralysis," says Dr. Zorman, who outlined the options and helped support the family through a very frightening time. "I always try to give the family the feeling that if there is only a 30 percent chance of recovery, they are the ones who are going to be in that 30 percent."

Says Scott, Phillip's father: "There's no question his recovery exceeded expectations. If it wasn't for his physical therapist and the doctors we had there, I don't think we'd have the same story. Dr. Zorman did a great job with the surgery. And Dr. Novick was the upbeat guy. The positive approach rubbed off on us as well."


Is Your Doctor a Memorial Doctor?
To find a physician who is committed to South Florida healthcare services, call Memorial Physician Referral Service toll-free at (800) 944-DOCS. We're available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.