Spinal Cord Injury Community

Spinal Cord Injury: Taking Recovery into My Own Hands

Arash Bayatmakou
Spinal Cord Injury Survivor and Author
05/02/18  12:20 PM PST
spinal cord injury

Before my spinal cord injury, I was living in San Francisco with my best friend, working for a solar power startup just after finishing my MBA, and generally enjoying my life to the max. I’d always been an athlete and at the age of thirty, I was in the best shape of my life. I ran and played soccer most days of the week, trained for triathlons, and spent plenty of time on a bike – both as my primary means of transport and for longer road rides on the weekends. My love for the outdoors was met with me going camping, backpacking, and out into nature as much as possible. My lifelong interest in travel and exploring new places meant that I was always looking for new adventures. In fact, just days before my injury, I had bought a ticket to go to Lebanon to visit my girlfriend!

I suffered my spinal cord injury one night after going to dinner with friends. When we came back to my friend’s apartment, he realized he’d locked the keys inside. He said his balcony (on the third story) was always unlocked and when I looked up at the building, I decided I could probably climb up and get in. As I was pulling myself up onto his balcony, something happened and I fell, landed on my neck, and shattered my C5-C6 vertebra. The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground, looking up at the night sky, and hearing the ambulance arrive. To this day, my brain has completely blacked out the actual fall and the rest of the night is a surreal blur of white walls, hospital hallways, and the devastated look of my parents’ faces.

The doctors gave me the same defeatist, negative prognosis that is all too common with spinal cord injury.

I was unlikely to have any function below my chest, that I should tame expectations for recovery, and that any potential return of function would happen in the first six months to one year, or two years if I was lucky.

My five-week acute rehab experience was mediocre. The OT’s did a good job of working with my hands and helping me strengthen and regain function in my fingers using e-stim, ice baths, and other creative methods, but the PT program was only focused on getting me out of the hospital as soon as possible. No matter what I told them about my personal goals, work ethic, and desire to improve, they repeatedly told me to tame expectations and just focus on adaptation and being able to do everyday things. I felt like I was discharged much too early and before I had a solid grasp of dealing with my body, let alone recovering function.

I took my recovery into my own hands the moment I was out of the hospital.

As a result, my recovery was completely unlike what the doctors said. From the beginning I worked as hard as I could to get moving and do anything I could to heal my body, despite the fact that my insurance had given up on me and had given me zero sessions of PT or any support or resources. After six months, I was able to wiggle a pinky toe but it wasn’t until two years after my injury, and with a relentless schedule of rehab and exercise that I was able to stand up on my own with a walker.

Most of my functional returns have happened after the two-year mark and all after months and months of very slow progress. I gradually strengthened my core and upper body function and went from standing for only a few seconds before collapsing down to the chair, to now being able to spend 1.5 hours on my feet doing various exercises to strengthen my lower body. My bowel and sexual function improved the most in years 3-5 post injury. I’m still not able to take steps on my own but I continue to work hard and get closer to walking, which is still my ultimate goal.

Read Arash’s next article, Discovering New Abilities After Spinal Cord Injury.


spinal cord injury

Arash Bayatmakou is a Spinal Cord Injury Survivor, Author, Motivational Speaker and Entrepreneur.

Follow his blog, Arash Recovery.

Discover his book, Little Big Steps.

Watch his TEDx video.

Check out his nonprofit, No Limits Collaborative.


More Articles on Spinal Cord Injury:

Spinal Cord Injury: Visualizing Recovery

Injury Anniversary


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I have c6 injury and I have lots of spasm in my whole body. What can you suggest to help?
I have found that consistent stretching, light exercise, plenty of water, quality food and rest all affect my spasticity.



  1. Pat m.
    Posted May 3, 2018 at 7:29 pm PDT

    My son had t12 l 1 injury when he was 24 and just out of the marines.The docs in ICU and later in rehab always told us the worst possible outcomes.After spending 6 months in rehab hospital he came home and took over. He is now 50 ,still needs canes and lost several body functions. I have never seen a man with mote courage and determination…so hardheaded.He stays away fro doctors for the most part. He went to college,had a successful business and married a wonderful woman. So you shouldn’t be discouraged by what the docs say.There is still a good life beyondinjury though it may not be what you expected it to be.

  2. Posted May 4, 2018 at 3:16 pm PDT

    That’s a wonderful comment to enhance this article, Pat. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

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