Finding a new normal after an accident

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DENVER -- The Colorado mountains attract people who love the outdoors. But when one Michigan man moved here last year, he was seriously injured in a mountain biking accident. It turns out, James Murtha could not have landed in a better place. He has been recovering and going through rehab at Craig Hospital. Craig Hospital is known around the world for helping patients recover from spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries. They have treated more than 30,000 patients since 1956. We are honored to share some of their patients stories. Stories of Hope.

Outdoor enthusiast James Murtha’s new adventure started on October 5th, 2014, when he flew over the handlebars of his bike while riding near Aspen. He said, “It all happened so fast. I went over the handlebars of my mountain bike and landed on my head. Right when the accident happened I had no feeling or control below the shoulders.” He broke his cervical vertebrae at the 3rd, 4th and 5th levels, shattering one of them. But he didn’t completely sever the spinal cord.... Which gives him a little hope. Murtha said, “My spinal cord still gets messages all the way down, so what they’re hoping is that over the next 6 months to 2 years, I could still keep improving, so there’s a chance this arm could get stronger.”

With the therapists at Craig Hospital, James works on getting stronger each day. In occupational therapy, he is learning how to use his good arm and his mouth to work a computer. He said, “From where I started to where I am now, just to have that left arm back, just to be able to do some things for myself gives me a lot of relief and a little hope. They’re hoping now that I have more feeling in my arm, I could start feeding myself, which we’re working on now and brush my teeth again.”

A lot of what they focus on is re-learning how to do everyday tasks like getting into and out of a car safely from a wheelchair. And in James’ case, his mom learning how to help him get into the passenger seat from his wheelchair. Therapists and doctors believe family members are a critical part of a patient’s rehab. He mom, Kathleen Murtha said, “One of the first things I said to him was we were not going to leave him alone.” She said he is patient, determined and inspiring. Choking up, Kathleen said, “It’s a gift to be able to watch your child, now a man meet the challenge.. not back down.. never complain.. 447 I’ve never heard him complained. I’ve complained.. it’s been a gift to be able to be here.. watch from the rafter sometime.. let him fly.. literally when he takes off in that wheelchair.”

The patients at Craig have a unique opportunity to experience things like SCUBA diving. James went for a dip and loved it, saying “It was cool. It was nice to be able to float around in the water.. and be free again.” His instructor, Carol Huserik said, “They don’t know if they can do it.. once they get in the water.. they say wow.. this is possible. This gives our patients the opportunity to get out of their wheelchairs and feel the freedom of the water.”

James says he also feeds off the positive energy around him. And he has found comfort in being around patients with similar injuries. He has learned from them and they have given him hope. This once aspiring firefighter, still wants a career where he is helping others.... And provide them with a little hope. Murtha said, “I intend to keep doing some of the things I did before, helping people, but it will just be in different ways. Like the way I help people now is more from what I know than what I can do.” Just one more step in HIS adventure.

For more information about the amazing work going on at Craig Hospital, visit their website: http://craighospital.org/

And for “Team James” information: https://www.facebook.com/teamJAMESmurtha