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BEATING THE ODDS: After severe accident, victim fights to walk again

After surviving an accident in Mexico that claimed the lives of his two friends, doctors told 20-year-old Billy Jean Paul Hernandez that he would never walk again.

The accident happened Dec. 30 in Ciudad Valles, Mexico.

Upon hearing from doctors there that he could be paralyzed, his mother, Sandra Ruiz of Brownsville, decided it was best to return to the United States for Hernandez’s treatment.

Hernandez, who had been a student at Browns ville Early College High School, was living with his grandparents in Ciudad Valles, when the accident happened.

He described himself as once a “rebel,” but said after moving in with his grandparents and sustaining himself by

selling elote en vaso, or cups of corn, he eventually found God.

After an almost nine-hour drive in an ambulance, Ruiz and her son arrived at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville, where Hernandez received a number of surgeries.

Hernandez said he never lost sensation in his right leg after the accident, but lost hope when he heard he would never walk again.

“I thought I would have to depend on people for the rest of my life,” Hernandez said.

When Hernandez was going to be discharged from VBMC, the South Texas Rehabilitation Center evaluated him and placed him in its care.

Based on his injuries, he was a prime candidate for the center’s services, said Letty Kretz, director of Marketing and Business Development at STRH.

Eva Anger, an occupational therapist at STRH, where Hernandez quickly recovered from his injuries, said it’s very unlikely that someone with his kind of injuries could walk again.

Hernandez suffered three fractures in his spinal cord, one in the cervical spine, Anger said.

“It was pretty severe,” Anger said. “When you have that high of a level of spinal cord injury most of the patients don’t walk.”

Ruiz said her son was supposed to be at the rehabilitation center for a week, but on the last day of his stay, doctors noticed improvement and decided to let him stay for an extra week. 

It was then that therapy and stimulating his muscles with electricity worked, Anger said.

“The first day we saw him walk was amazing,” Anger said.

Although this is a rare occurrence, Anger said Hernandez was determined.

“His family was here around the clock,” Anger said. “He’s young and as tragic as it is, young people stand a really good chance because the body is not finished yet.”

Ruiz said she had a really hard time accepting the notion that her son wouldn’t walk again.

“It all happened too quickly,” Ruiz said.

Hernandez is now relieved that he can walk. He takes cautious, wobbly steps. He is now headed for another facility in Austin that will help him, thanks to the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, Ruiz said.

The South Texas Rehabilitation Hospital has been ranked in the top 10 percent of inpatient rehabilitation facilities, Anger said.

“Inpatient rehab is the best chance our patients have of getting better,” Anger said.

After he is well, Hernandez said he plans to return to live with his grandparents and attend a technical school.

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Hospital helps patients recover after trauma

Luis Martinez, injured by a car accident that left him in a wheelchair, is now employed by South Texas Rehabilitation Hospital, which is celebrating National Rehabilitation Week, in Brownsville. Martinez is just one of many Brownsville residents who have benefited from rehabilitative therapy.

For anyone who has suffered a serious medical setback, completing everyday tasks can be a milestone—and can make a tremendous difference to quality of life.

The SouthTexasRehabilitationHospital in Brownsville is celebrating National Rehabilitation Week, which runs this week and aims to educate the public on the benefits of rehabilitation and the capabilities of people with disabilities.

The rehabilitation hospital opened in 2005 to serve locals with rehabilitation services, such as occupational, speech and physical therapy. A press release issued by Letty Kretz, director of marketing and business development, explained that rehabilitation is a medical specialty that helps people to recover after disabling diseases or injuries.

In 2009, Luis Martinez, a father of three, was involved in an accident when a tire blew out and spun his car out of control before it flipped over 10 times in Memphis, Tenn.

Martinez was paralyzed from the waist down and received a surgery a week after being hospitalized in Memphis to help mend his broken back. Martinez spent the next four months in physical therapy at the hospital, trying to regain as much mobility as possible. Soon after, Martinez was transferred to an out-patient facility to learn how to drive again using custom controls.

Martinez, who uses a wheelchair, has since moved back to Brownsville and works as a PBX operator at the SouthTexasRehabilitationHospital, where he handles incoming calls.

Martinez said he learned about the hospital two years ago at a Sprint store while shopping when he was approached by South Texas Rehabilitation Hospital CEO Jessie Smedley. Martinez impressed Smedley with his great attitude, and she immediately offered him employment at the hospital, Martinez said. Martinez began by performing maintenance duties around the hospital — painting, inventory and working with the nurse’s station — before working in the PBX department.

Martinez is currently a student at the University of Texas at Brownsville and is pursuing a degree in psychology so he can learn to communicate and understand the needs of patients at the hospital. The care and encouragement Martinez received on behalf of rehabilitation therapists have affected him and motivated him to serve others. 

Martinez hopes to obtain his degree and become a counselor at the hospital. Kretz said Martinez motivates other patients through his hard-working example. Martinez explained that paraplegics are especially susceptible to bed sores, which can very dangerous because poor circulation prevents the sores from healing quickly. Activity is vital to their health.

“People need to understand that there is life after incidents like this,” Martinez said. “It is possible through therapists who encourage patients to push themselves.”

Martinez contends that he owes much of his success to rehabilitation.

“We are lucky to have the South Texas Rehabilitation hospital here in Valley. It’s the kind of thing you don’t think about until you or a loved one need it,” Martinez said.

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