Wayne Howell of Jamestown was paralyzed below the waist more than four years ago when an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) rolled over on him and damaged his lower spine.
“It was March 29, 2009,” he recalled. “The ATV was new. It was the first one I had owned.
“I was driving up a hill behind another ATV driven by a younger person. They couldn’t make it over the crest of the hill, so I stopped to give them some room. Because of the slope of the hill, my ATV was at an angle. It started to roll over. I was underneath it when it stopped,” he explained.
Howell was 69 at the time.
During the next three and one-half years, he spent hours in hospitals and rehabilitation units in the Knoxville area trying to regain some movement in his legs.
“The doctors told him he would never walk again,” said his wife, Irene. “He had little feeling in his legs. He felt no pain if the doctors stuck him with a needle, or pin,” she said.
About a year ago, Howell had virtually exhausted his options. Not only was the lower part of his body unable to move, but he had lost much of the muscle mass in his arms and upper body.
His wife heard from a friend that the exercise pool at the Cumberland Medical Center Wellness Complex in Fairfield Glade had a device to lift paralyzed persons in and out of the water. It provided some hope because it was closer to home than Knoxville, and Howell knew how to swim, he could float in the water and possibly get some activity, his wife explained.
So they drove from Jamestown to Fairfield Glade, became Wellness Complex members, and committed to meet twice a week with Wayne Henline, a certified personal trainer.
Henline encouraged Howell to begin working in the pool to strengthen the muscles he could still use.
“We found with a little effort and support, he could push up on his toes in the water. We started with that,” Henline said.
For the last year, Howell’s wife has driven him the 45 minutes from Jamestown to Fairfield Glade, twice a week to work out with Henline.
Over the past year, with effort, he has re-learned to stretch his hips and move sideways in the water while hanging on to the edge of the pool. By pulling and pushing on the hand rails at the pool entrance he can now lift and lower his legs to step up and down on one of the underwater steps leading out of the pool.
“The further up he raises in the water, the less buoyancy supports him, the more effort it takes, and the stronger he gets,” Henline explained.
“When we started the sideways movement, he could only go for 30 seconds and then he needed to stop and rest,” Henline said. “He could only handle about 15 minutes of total exercise time at the beginning,” he said.
“Now, he can open his hips and go back and forth for a minute, and then repeat it one or two times with only a brief rest. Now, he can work in the water for 30 minutes,” Henline said.
Howell is rebuilding his upper body muscle to a point where his biceps are visible when he strains on the pool hand rail.
“We’re working with him so he can proudly wear a tank top again,” Henline jokes.
Howell said that Henline and the Fairfield Glade Wellness Complex “has done more for me than anyone or any place I’ve been over the past four years.”
Howell proudly reports he can now sit on a chair in the shower without holding on to any side rails or bars. His wife said Veteran’s Administration doctors, who examined him in July, reported he is beginning to regenerate nerve tissue in his legs.
Asked why, at 74, he is going through what some might consider an extreme effort, Howell said:
“I want to walk again.”
“Last week he said he merely wanted to move again with a walker. He doesn’t know if he will ever again, but as I told him when he first came in, let’s find out.”