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UofU’s New Rehabilitation Hospital Helps Man With Broken Neck Walk Again

Aug 19, 2020, 6:06 PM | Updated: 10:50 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Spinal cord injuries and brain trauma can be life-altering but a new state-of-the-art rehabilitation hospital in Utah is giving a man who broke his neck and his mother hope.

When he needed her, nothing could keep single mother Dori Sugihara away from her son. Not miles nor a pandemic.

“We got to touch him. We got to see him through Facetime, but it’s still not the same,” said Sugihara, who lives in Hawaii.

Her son, Ohlen Sugihara, of West Haven, is in the Air Force and loves to swim and restore old cars. Dori hopes Ohlen’s treatment at University of Utah Health’s new Craig H. Neilsen Rehabilitation Hospital will give him back his life.

Ohlen swung into shallow water at Pineview Reservoir July 1, hitting the bottom head first.

“Everything down was paralyzed. I couldn’t move anything,” he said. “I thought I was going to drown. All I had was hope, and that hope got me to shore.”

His brother rescued him from the water and the long recovery began.

The 75-bed rehabilitation hospital is one of the most advanced in the nation, with the world’s longest ZeroG track — a robotic system that connects to an overhead track that helps Ohlen safely practice walking again.

Sugihara walks up and down steps on ZeroG track.

In his room, there’s smart, hands-free technology. “With voice, with touch, they can sip a straw and control the blinds, and they can also control it from the bed speaker as well,” said James Gardner an occupational therapist with University of Utah Health.

A special kitchen teaches what’s possible for life after the hospital. “Simple things that can be put into any household cabinet, so a rack that comes down and makes things easy to get to,” said Chris Noren, University of Utah Health’s director of in-patient therapy services.

Downstairs, a garage filled with adaptive sporting equipment demonstrates possibilities. Program coordinator Keegan Buffington showed how a special snow ski works. “There’s suspension shocks here so it can absorb any shocks, bumps, or big drops. Really this acts as a stand-up skier’s knees work,” said Buffington.

Program Director Keegan Buffinton shows how an adaptive downhill ski works at the new Craig H. Nielsen Rehabilitation Hospital.

It’s giving Ohlen and his mother optimism.

“Being a mom and not being able to fix your child; it’s heart-wrenching,” she said. “It’s hard. I’m hoping that he will walk and get everything back.”

Ohlen said, “I was losing motivation and hope, I just wanted to give up. But I regained that when I came here.”

Not much can come between them. In the wake of a devastating injury: an unbreakable bond.

Ohlen is making great progress.

He was released Wednesday, and able to walk out of the hospital.

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UofU’s New Rehabilitation Hospital Helps Man With Broken Neck Walk Again