Passion. It's what drives our relationships and our careers. It gives us purpose, pushing us to do the best we can at what we love to do. Kevin Bailey knows what passion is.
Fortunately for him, so do the many WakeMed medical and surgical specialists who touched his life throughout his treatment and recovery after a fall from a roof dramatically changed his life.
A basketball fan and player since he was a boy, Kevin's passion for athletics fueled his ambition to become a physical therapist and athletic trainer for sports teams.
He pursued that path by earning his bachelor's degree in physical education, exercise and sports science and in psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill.
But, after graduation, he discovered he had another passion: drumming. "I never really excelled at anything until I started playing the drums," said Kevin.
He proved to have a natural ability for playing the drum set, and he wanted to take advantage of it. This aspiring musician then quit his job as a physical therapy aide. He and a friend made plans to move to New York City where they would each pursue their dreams. In the meantime, Kevin took up residential roofing, which gave him time to practice drumming and an all-important paycheck.
Things changed on July 22, 1996. While preparing for a rainstorm, Kevin fell from a roof - a height of 25 feet. At that point, things got foggy. "I remember EMS putting me on the spine board, having my clothes cut off in the emergency room and going into a scanner," he said.
Wake County Emergency Medical Services rushed Kevin to the WakeMed Raleigh Campus, which today is home to one of North Carolina's six Level I trauma centers.
Imaging diagnostics revealed a spinal cord injury at Kevin's sixth thoracic vertebra. Later that week, Kevin had six hours of spinal surgery to have Harrington rods placed in his back. Made of steel, Harrington rods stabilize the back to help speed healing.
Despite his surgery and strong physical condition, Kevin's injury left him paralyzed from the chest down. After sufficiently recovered from surgery, Kevin went to the WakeMed Rehabilitation Hospital - also located on the WakeMed Raleigh Campus - where he would spend the next four and a half weeks learning how to live life without the use of his lower body.
That's when Kevin was "recruited" to play wheelchair basketball. "As soon as I got to rehab, the recreational therapist asked me if I wanted to join the wheelchair basketball team. I said 'sure' and I was in," said Kevin.
But first, Kevin needed to learn everything from how to sit up in bed to navigating a curb with a wheelchair. His care and therapy were provided by the WakeMed Spinal Cord Injury Team, a group of physical and occupational therapists, nurses, a case manager and a recreational therapist.
"Some facilities claim they have a spinal cord injury team when they really don't," said Kevin. "WakeMed has a legitimate spinal cord injury team. They are so caring; the nurses were amazing. They did everything with love, and they knew how to teach and care while still preserving my dignity."
Family can also play an important role in a spinal cord injury patient's care and recovery. This continues to be true in Kevin's case. WakeMed case managers and therapists worked with his family, helping them find resources, including contractor who knew how to make their home wheelchair accessible.
Kevin was discharged from WakeMed and returned to his family's home on September 5, 1996 - the night Hurricane Fran hit. The strength of that storm mirrors Kevin's passionate commitment to regaining independence. "When you are unable to use part of your body, you really need to strengthen the parts you can use," said Karen Vasquez, LCSW, CCM, Kevin's rehabilitation case manager. "Those muscles need to work double time so you can be as independent as possible."
Kevin worked extremely hard. His efforts continued throughout his therapy at one of WakeMed's outpatient rehabilitation facilities located throughout the Triangle. Kevin participated in outpatient rehabilitation three times a week for several months.
During these sessions, Kevin continued to strength train and focused on more advanced activities of daily living such as how to navigate a curb, get from the floor to his chair, walk with braces, and flexibility and strength training. It was during outpatient rehabilitation that Kevin gradually began to realize that he was not going to regain anymore bodily function. Any possibility of being able to pursue his passion as a drummer was gone.
"It took time to accept," said Kevin. "It was important that there was passion in my life, and that was taken away from me - at least in the short term."
Kevin realized he had to refocus and set his sights on new passions. His passion for independence helped him move out of his parents' house and into an apartment on his own. The Triangle Thunder is the name of Kevin's wheelchair basketball team in which he has been involved for approximately 10 years.
Through the Triangle Thunder, Kevin could participate in a sport he was passionate about and be with others who had physical disabilities, which proved to be important to him.
In the fall of 2000, Kevin, a man of strong faith, decided to pursue a closer relationship with God by earning his master's degree in theology. His master's program took him to Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, for three years, during which time he also did a good deal of soul searching to find his passion and calling.
Upon completing his master's degree in 2003, Kevin returned to Raleigh and joined the Cardinal Gibbons High School faculty as a Catholic Church history and Christian morality teacher. He continued to lend his insights to other spinal cord injury patients through the WakeMed Spinal Cord Injury Group. And, as #43, he rejoined the Triangle Thunder as both a player and coach.
What's next for Kevin? He is launching a business writing Roman Catholic religion textbooks for high schools.
In addition to continuing to run the court with his Triangle Thunder teammates, Kevin also remains dedicated to the WakeMed Spinal Cord Injury Group and the WakeMed Rehabilitation Spinal Cord Injury Team members who helped him regain his independence and make possible his pursuit of new passions.
We can all learn a lot from Kevin, his experience and his positive attitude. "Any life-changing injury or event brings out who you are - the good and the bad," said Kevin. "It gives you the opportunity to grow or to regress."
The WakeMed Rehabilitation Hospital family shares Kevin's passion to achieve independence and applauds both his persistence and growth.
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