Kayla Lowe’s story

Therapist holding Kayla's arms to help her stand.

Three days after Christmas, Kayla Lowe was walking outside when she was suddenly struck by a car and thrown 50 feet.

The 24-year-old was rushed to the hospital and underwent emergency brain surgery. For a month, Kayla fought off complications, including pneumonia, before stabilizing. Though she no longer needed life-saving intervention, the road to recovery would be long.

Doctors recommended Select Specialty Hospital – Columbus East for continued care. Kayla’s family was apprehensive about moving to another location but upon meeting with a clinical liaison and learning more about the specialty hospital, fears were eased.

Kayla arrived in January, minimally conscious, unable to move, speak, breathe or eat independently. Kayla’s family and a physician-led team of nurses, therapists, dietitians and pharmacists united around a plan to get her home and back to all the things she loved.

Kayla had a strong support system. Father, Jason, stepmother, Danielle, fiancé, Matthew, grandparents and friends visited frequently. Jason was, and continues to be, Kayla’s biggest advocate. He insisted the next step in Kayla’s recovery be an inpatient rehabilitation hospital. A referral to an OhioHealth Rehabilitation Hospital physiatrist specializing in traumatic brain injury was made early in her stay so all therapy could be targeted to that goal.

Respiratory therapists created a schedule to gradually reduce ventilator settings, testing whether Kayla’s lungs could do more work.

Physical therapists moved her arms and legs to keep blood flowing and muscles in use. As she continued to stabilize, therapists and nurses moved Kayla into a special chair. Sitting up, after so long in bed, reactivated core muscles.

Throughout January, Kayla continued making progress. She sat with assistance, moved in bed and liberated from the ventilator.

In February, Kayla departed, as planned, for OhioHealth Rehabilitation Hospital, another hospital in the Select Medical system.

When Kayla arrived, she wasn’t able to communicate.

Speech therapists worked to strengthen vocal muscles by practicing certain sounds and singing. Jason became emotional as Kayla sang a favorite song – “All of Me” by John Legend – during therapy.  She continued to work hard and over time, regained the ability to speak.

Speech therapists also emphasized memory and critical thinking tasks. Through practice and repetition, she identified loved ones in photographs and learned to use an iPad to place video calls to family.

Kayla needed full assistance for personal care. Occupational therapists used arm stretching techniques to improve overall range of motion. Light electrical stimulation, coupled with therapeutic taping for joint support, increased limb mobility. As her precision grew, one of Kayla’s favorite activities – nail painting – was incorporated into therapy. And vision exercises with an interactive touch screen reconnected eye tracking and arm coordination.

At first, it wasn’t safe for Kayla to try walking, so physical therapists focused on other movement options. First, she was placed in a standing frame – a special wheelchair that supports the body upright -- but soon graduated to standing with a therapist’s assistance. Then, she progressed to a harness system that partially supported body weight. Finally, Kayla practiced walking using a bionic exoskeleton that provided power to alternately place one foot in front of the other.

After eight weeks, Kayla met all goals and went home, ready to resume the life she led before the accident.