Fighting Gravity

When a spinal cord mass left him paralyzed, Marshall Garber’s life changed forever. It changed again during an adaptive ski trip arranged by Kennedy Krieger.

“Going into my treatment at Kennedy Krieger, I didn’t have any intention of forming a family there, but in a way I did,” says 17-year-old Marshall Garber of his rehabilitation for a spinal cord injury at the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at Kennedy Krieger Institute.

After developing a mass on his spinal cord that left him paralyzed, Marshall’s family sought treatment for him at Kennedy Krieger. Marshall developed a special bond with his therapists—Meredith, his inpatient therapist; Erin, who has been one of his outpatient therapists from the beginning; Julie, who was his inpatient therapist after his second surgery; and many others who encouraged him to achieve his goals. But what impacted him the most was an adaptive ski trip to Crested Butte, Colorado, arranged by Drs. Daniel Becker and Cristina Sadowsky.

Marshall had recently come to terms with the knowledge that he would never walk again. It just wasn’t in the cards for him, and he had learned to accept it. But during the ski trip, he underwent a test as part of a study led by Dr. Becker on the effect of high altitude on the neurological and psychological function of individuals with paralysis.

After examining Marshall, Dr. Becker told him that his muscles were strong enough to stand. Marshall didn’t believe him, but Dr. Becker said, “Let’s try it.” He helped Marshall up and then let go, and Marshall stood free, for the first time in years.

“It blew my mind away,” recalls Marshall. “I started crying like a baby. I was so overwhelmed, because I had no idea any of that was going to happen. I’ll never forget it. I went from having no idea I could stand to realizing that my aspirations and my hopes and dreams could be fulfilled.”

Marshall spent the rest of the trip enjoying the thrill of skiing, an experience that might never have been possible if not for ICSCI doctors who believe in helping patients live life to the fullest.

“It was the fastest and farthest I’ve gone without wheels in as long as I can remember,” says Marshall. “The freedom was just incredible, and the scenery was so beautiful. Add on top of that the speed of going down the mountain and the adrenaline from knowing I was skiing. It was one of the best experiences of my life.”

The International Center for Spinal Cord Injury has a history of opening the door to experiences and activities that patients may think are impossible due to their injuries. Many doctors and therapists have dedicated their careers to improving the quality of life for patients. Therapists formed the Kennedy Krieger Running Festival Team to help individuals with spinal cord injuries train for and participate in the Baltimore marathon. Over the years, ICSCI has developed a thriving Virtual Sailing (VSail) program, and regularly refers patients and families to the Baltimore Adapted Recreation and Sports (BARS) program. And in 2011, doctors led a scuba trip to the Cayman Islands for individuals with paralysis.

Since the ski trip, Marshall has been able to work at a more intense level of physical therapy. “I can feel and move my legs, and just recently, I’ve gained the ability to do some walking,” he says. 

“I’m not sure what the future will hold, because there are so many options,” says Marshall. “For the time being, I want to focus on therapy, so I can get back on my feet and go to college. I don’t know where I’m going to end up, but I know I’m going to be moving forward.”

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