Pfannebecker stayed a night in the hospital and left the next day with a few bruises. That wasn’t the case for Gardner. For the next six months, three days each week, Gardner went to physical therapy (PT), which is a form of rehabilitation performed to restore a patient’s function, normal movement and reduce pain. Gardner was first treated for pain in her neck and soon after was also treated for her spine.
“In a clinic situation PTs could be helping restore normal motion and strength after a shoulder injury and even a surgical repair,” wrote physical therapist (PT) Joy Miller, who did not treat Gardner, in an email. “It is not just as simple as giving exercises and helping regain strength in a weakened joint.”
For the first two months, Gardner’s neck was completely immobile, but as her neck regained mobility the physical therapists found that there was more to Gardner’s injury then they had originally thought.
“At first, they thought it was just the ligaments in the muscles that connect to my neck. That’s when they found out I also damaged them to my spine,” Gardner said.
A ligament is a tough connective tissue that connects two bones together to support a joint.
“The neck is very mobile so it has many different joints throughout,” Miller said. “Injuries of the neck can be catastrophic. If an injury effects many ligaments, it can make the spine unstable and the spinal cord can be damaged and even severed, leading to paralysis.”
Though the accident happened more than a year ago, Gardner still some days wakes up in pain. The pain is usually in her back and neck, sometimes last the entire day. At times, the pain can be so overbearing that Gardner takes prescribed painkillers.
“Some days are worse than others. My back pain, my doctor said it could last forever. That’s something that they can’t tell,” Gardner said.
With some minor injuries, it can take four to six weeks of recovery; however, with more advanced injuries, especially those involving the spinal cord, it could take months or years for full recovery. Even with that, there is still a risk that her condition will not improve.
With the accident damaging the ligaments in her neck and spine, the life that Gardner had and future she envisioned for herself was changed.
For Gardner, it didn’t matter if she was good at sports or not, she loved being on a team and playing. However, after the accident, the doctors told her that sports and being the active person that she was weren’t in her near future. Instead of gyms, teams, games, and sports, Gardner was in a neck brace all day, every day, and that was the most frustrating part of recovery for her.
“It was really frustrating when I found out I wasn’t going to be able to do sports, and it was really frustrating when I wasn’t able to work out,” Gardner said. “I got frustrated all the time. Because I had to have someone carry my stuff and I just felt like I was helpless.”
The feeling of being helpless went on for months until finally, in early spring of this year, Gardner was able to do something that most high schoolers take for granted.
“When I started carrying my bag it really hurt,” Gardner said. “When I started to feel a little bit normal was when it stopped hurting as much and when I didn’t go throughout the day crying because I will admit when I started carrying my backpack I did cry a couple times because it hurt, but when I could go throughout the day without crying, that’s when I probably felt my most genuine self. I didn’t feel so helpless … I could carry my own backpack. I could do things that I want to do and I could do things for me instead of other people doing them for me.”