Cars have fascinated Joel Meisinger ever since he was a little boy. “He’s just always liked any kind of car,” said his mother, Jodi. Over the years, cars became a passion for the 19-year-old from Weeping Water, Neb.
Joel’s talents won him first place honors at the high school state Skills USA competition for automotive refinishing his junior and senior years. He received scholarships to WyoTech, in Laramie, Wyo., where he planned to study auto mechanics. Joel had bought and sold 14 cars by the time he graduated. It’s ironic that it was a car that drastically altered his life last fall.
On Sept. 15, Joel and his brother, Travis, were en route home after attending a Husker football game. As Travis rounded a corner in Manley, Neb., he lost control of the vehicle. The Mustang GT rolled over and came to rest on its top on the railroad tracks. Travis was ejected from the car and Joel was pinned inside. Emergency responders used the Jaws of Life to free Joel and he was lifeflighted to Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha.
Travis suffered minor injuries, but Joel broke his C5-C6 vertebrae — an incomplete spinal cord injury. Following surgery, doctors cautioned his parents the likelihood of their son regaining his mobility was slim. “They gave me a one in a million chance I would ever walk again,” said Joel, who began rehabilitation at Madonna on Sept. 24.
I never thought I’d get hurt. But I had good support and most importantly, I never gave up.
Joel was barely mobile when he began therapy, but his Madonna team created an individualized plan to address his goal to walk independently. Initially, Joel practiced being upright in the standing frame. “I only lasted three minutes, but it felt good,” said Joel. He quickly learned to perfect slideboard transfers from his wheelchair and to stand and pivot.
Relearning daily selfcares, like brushing his teeth and feeding himself, was important for the confident young man. “I struggled with having to let others do things for me,” said Joel. His occupational therapists introduced helpful devices like an adaptive cuff
that accommodates eating utensils.
It was in aquatic therapy where Joel’s feet took their first steps. “It was really exciting to watch!” said Jodi, who cheered her son’s accomplishments.
Sessions on the Lokomat® helped Joel refine his gait. “It was really weird the first time, but I started to challenge myself,” said Joel.
During his rehabilitation, encouragement came from Joel’s family, friends and Madonna staff. Through personal visits with Margo Marino, a spinal cord peer support team member, Joel shared concerns about his injury. “Margo gave me someone to talk to that had been through this before,” said Joel. He also developed friendships with two other patients on the spinal cord unit. “Those guys are great and made my stay here a lot better.”
On Dec. 18, Joel got an early Christmas present when he rejoined his family at home. He is independent in all his selfcares and walks 200 feet with a walker. Joel is transitioning to Quality Living, Inc., in Omaha after the holidays to hone his everyday