Injured Monkton man rises to the challenge, regains independence
MONKTON — Chris Grant pretty much had life by the tail.
He had his health, a home, a job and a Harley.
Then June 27, 2009, came along and changed his life forever.
Grant, then 36, was taking his motorcycle for a quick burn along Walker Mountain Road in Clarendon. He was a mile-and-a-half from his home when he rolled into a curve and saw an oncoming pickup truck that was veering across the centerline of the road.
Grant swerved to avoid the pickup and in the process hit a patch of sand at the side of the road that sent him and his motorcycle careening into a guardrail.
That’s when the lights went out.
When they came back on at Rutland Regional Medical Center, Grant was in a world of physical pain, matched only by the emotional crush he would feel upon hearing these two words:
In one fell swoop, he had lost the use of his legs, his job prospects and his self-sufficiency.
“You go from your everyday life to a point of reverting almost to infancy,” Grant said.
Grant, now 42, was told by a physical therapist early in his convalescence that patients with paralysis tend to make a profound decision for themselves around three weeks after their accidents.
“It’s either, ‘My life is over,’ or ‘This sucks, but where do we go from here?’” Grant said.
He chose the latter path.
So rather than throw in the towel, Grant has spent the past six years reclaiming mobility, his independence and his self-confidence. And he’s done it with a lot of help from friends, family, physicians, folks from Addison County Home Health & Hospice (ACHH&H) and, of course, his wife, Susan Provost Grant, whom he married two years ago.
It’s been a long journey that began with his bones in pieces. His injuries were so severe that he had to be airlifted to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. The main damage to his battered body included nine vertebra fractures, a shattered shoulder and fractured skull.
He would spend two weeks at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, followed by three-and-a-half months of rehab at the Fanny Allen Hospital in Colchester. Along with having no feeling from the chest down, Grant’s right arm had next to no mobility. It was essentially fixed in a position across stomach. His left arm was also only marginally useful.
With encouragement from his family, Grant took to his repetitive and sometime painful rehab with a sense of purpose. It was all about regaining as much feeling and dexterity as possible. Basic finger, hand and arm movements were considered huge victories.
“You work and work,” he said. “You have to get back to independence.”
One of his first steps was to invest in a collection of color-coded “thera-bands.” These are essentially large rubber bands used for resistance-strength exercises. The bands can be stretched to build strength in arms, shoulders, hands and fingers. Being a former weight-lifter, Grant already knew how to fortify the various muscle groups.
“I started with the thera-bands and built up strength to the point where I was doubling them up, tripling them up, and then moved back to weights,” he said.
There were some setbacks, however.
“My spine shifted forward and lengthened my stay” in the hospital, he said. “It got to a point where they were thinking about sending me home, because they didn’t want to burn up the bulk of my rehab if I wasn’t going to make any progress.”
Grant was ultimately released from Fanny Allen and into the care of his parents, Sue and William Grant, in Middlebury. ACHH&H was among the local agencies that helped him rehab in his new home setting.
Being largely immobile was an abomination for Grant, a self-described “gym rat” prior to the accident. He had trained in martial arts and was a dedicated runner.
“They said more than once that his core was so strong, it probably saved his life,” Susan said. “He didn’t have any internal damage.”
Grant could have gotten frustrated and resigned himself to life in a wheelchair.
But he didn’t.
“It was like, ‘How am I going to figure out how to do the things I need to do, in this situation?” Grant said.
He became inventive. Soon after he and his wife Susan moved to Monkton a few years ago, he set up a rudimentary workout room on the property. Ramps now allow him easy access to his house, where tables, counters and drawers are within his reach. He made a “mirror box” that tricks his right hand into performing exercises more effectively, through mirror-symmetric movements in concert with his more dexterous left hand.
Before long, his dedication to maximizing his movement gave him encouraging results — sometimes through the most surprising motions.
“It’s going to sound sad, but I got back most of the movement in my left hand from texting,” Grant said with a smile. “It took a lot of hand dexterity. I had a flip phone at the time, so that was one of the things I would work with — getting my thumb in between to be able to flip the phone open and still be able to hold onto the phone to text.”
He’s gained some trunk strength and can sit alone on the edge of his bed and transfer to his wheelchair.
And he is now far from a prisoner to that omnipresent chair.
Grant has become an avid handcyclist and has participated in numerous races with other enthusiasts. A handcycle has three wheels, is based low to the ground, and is powered by turning the crank with the hands rather than the feet. He got connected to the sport through the Northeast Disabled Athletic Association while he was still in rehab.
“My physical therapist got me onto the bike and told me how to get in and out of it,” Grant said.
BACK INTO SPORTS
He was quickly sold on the sport and successfully applied for a grant through the Kelly Brush Foundation to acquire his own handcycle. Grant participates in the 25-mile Kelly Brush Ride every September. He completed his first marathon two years after his accident and is now setting his sights on the Vermont City Marathon next May.
“Cycling gets me out; it’s one of those back-road things,” Grant said. “It’s like running used to be — in the elements. You can’t beat it in the spring and fall.”
The sport has also allowed Grant to meet others dealing with physical challenges. He has found a sense of camaraderie with his fellow handcyclists, Susan noted.
“There’s a wicked sense of community among the guys that do this,” Susan said. “It’s the same group of guys that are doing it every year.”
CHRIS GRANT, 42, of Monkton is making great progress in his life following a 2009 motorcycle accident that left him without the use of his legs.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
In addition to handcycling, Grant has tried adaptive sailing on Lake Champlain, sled hockey and cross country skiing. He also has taken to “gravity-free” training in a swimming pool, where for a brief moment, he can see his legs move again with the motion of the water.
Grant’s successes have gone beyond athletics.
He has a full-time job with Triad Design Service in Williston, editing and revising technical manuals for the military.
Getting back to work has helped Grant’s self-esteem, provided a revenue stream, and perhaps most importantly helped him maintain quality health insurance.
“I don’t know where I’d be without my income,” Grant said. “And if anything were to happen and I didn’t have insurance, I have to find a way to pay for my rehab and physical therapy.”
Grant wants to minimize his dependency on other people. To that end, he resumed driving four years ago, thanks to a specially modified vehicle.
“I didn’t want to be reliant on other people for appointments,” Grant said. “Being stuck and not being able to go where I wanted was a pet peeve of mine.”
Still, he acknowledges that his wife, Susan, has been a lifesaver.
Grant first met Susan Provost around 10 years ago. He had been good friends with Susan’s sister, so he would often come to the Provost home for dinners and other events. Susan and Chris became friends, a bond that would strengthen following the 2009 motorcycle crash. Susan became a regular visitor at Fanny Allen while Chris was rehabbing.
Friendship began to evolve into something more. The couple had a first date on 10/10/10. They got married in August of 2013 and hope to someday start a family.
“When we first got together, people asked me, ‘Are you sure you aren’t setting yourself up to take care of him?’” Susan said. “But I don’t see that wheelchair, ever. Maybe it’s that I love him … There are certainly things that he can’t do. He can’t get into the basement when the furnace isn’t working the right way. But he is so strong and independent in other ways that that chair is not a hindrance to him.”
Chris’s good moments far exceed his bad ones, according to Susan.
“He has had moments where something has fallen onto the floor and rolled down the ramp and he has said, ‘I should have been able to grab that,’” Susan said of her husband. “But that’s just a moment — not minutes, not hours, not days. He has a moment, wraps his mind around it, and then says, ‘OK, what am I going to build so the next time I drop something, it’s not going to roll down the ramp?’”
There are times when Grant might be independent to a fault.
“I’m nervous at times; he thinks he can do anything,” Susan said.
June Glebus, a skilled nurse representative with ACHH&H, has been working with Grant since October 2009. As such, she has been along for virtually all of his post-accident journey.
“Chris is very inventive and self-motivated, and he prepares his own (rehab) plans,” Glebus said. “He aspires to be as independent as his abilities will allow him to be.”
She admires his persistence.
“If you don’t want to have someone do something for you for the rest of your life, you have to figure out how to do it yourself,” Glebus said.
Glebus and Kimberly J. Nichols, marketing and development manager for ACHH&H, both call Grant one of the remarkable success stories they’ve seen. It is also a story of a team working together, according to Nichols.
“When people think of home care, I’m afraid they believe it’s simply hand holding and checking vital signs,” she said. “That is far from the truth. Recovering at home takes hard work and dedication from patients and families/caregivers. Moreover, it takes skilled clinical and support staff.”
Six years after his accident, Grant is happy with his rebound. He hopes his stick-to-it-iveness can serve as a heartening example to others in recovery.
“It’s not uncommon that when this happens, some people think life is over,” Grant said. “It’s really not.”
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.