Ryan's Story

Ryan Carter shoots a basketball into a basketball hoop in a therapy center.

Before a devastating car accident changed his life, Ryan “Juice” Carter’s world revolved around basketball, cooking and family. The accident left the former college basketball player, 29, suffering from blood loss and multiple serious injuries, including several broken ribs, a broken leg, internal bruising and an injury to his heart caused by blunt-force trauma.

Rushed to University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, Ryan spent the next 51 days in the intensive care unit (ICU) due to his complex injuries. Ryan was placed in a coma and put on a ventilator because of severe respiratory distress caused by a collapsed and bleeding lung. While sedated, Ryan’s doctors performed a tracheostomy, surgically creating a hole in his trachea so he could breathe. Doctors also inserted both a breathing and a feeding tube into Ryan to drain fluid from his lungs and provide nourishment, respectively. Ryan had a second surgery to place rods and screws in his damaged right ankle.

The days just after the accident are a blur to Ryan, who said the only recollection he had was being connected to numerous machines via lines and tubes. As he became more medically stable, Ryan was transferred out of ICU and moved to a regular nursing floor in the hospital for an additional 16 days.

Ryan’s extended time in the ICU and on a ventilator resulted in a significant loss of endurance and muscle strength, making it difficult for him to stand, walk or sit at the edge of his bed without assistance. Even simple activities would make his heart rate increase. But mentally, he longed to be outdoors.

When physicians recommended inpatient rehabilitation as the next step in Ryan’s recovery, his family chose Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation Hospital, Beachwood for its proximity to home – his family would visit frequently.

Upon admission, Ryan was only able to walk 50 feet with the support of a walker and the assistance of a therapist for balance. Because of his recent surgery, Ryan was required to wear a walking boot to support his healing leg and ankle, which made walking difficult. He also struggled with a weak left arm. It was sensitive and painful to move which meant he couldn’t shower or dress independently.

Ryan’s main goal was becoming independent and returning home, making it clear he wanted “no more hospitals!” His physician-led team of nurses, physical and occupational therapists worked to create a care plan to support his needs while keeping his interests in mind.

Given Ryan’s love of basketball, his care team immediately incorporated the sport into his sessions. Therapists had Ryan practice bounce passing and shooting hoops to improve his balance and standing endurance. It also improved his ability to bear weight on both legs. Additionally, physical therapists worked with Ryan on handling stairs and practicing walking over many surfaces – in preparation for his return to the basketball court. An athlete, Ryan made quick progress; soon he was walking with a cane, increasing his walking distances with each session.

Occupational therapists focused their attention on increasing strength and mobility in Ryan’s left arm. Therapists started with foam hand exercisers to improve his grip and practiced sliding a towel across a table to improve his range of motion. Ryan progressed to tossing beanbags with the left arm and throwing a basketball with both hands on the ball. These exercises held dual purposes, not only did Ryan improve his ability to care for himself, but it also helped him throw and bounce a basketball.

Nursing worked with Ryan on wound care and healing. They taught him the importance of a proper diet to support wound healing. His body required extra protein to restore the muscle mass lost during his long hospital stay.

Ryan’s family played a key role in his recovery through their constant presence encouragement at Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation Hospital, Beachwood. The family underwent care partner training learning how to care for and support Ryan once he returned home.

After 12 days of intense rehabilitation, Ryan could independently manage all of his daily living activities – dressing, showering and personal care. In addition, he could walk over 400 feet with a walker and tackle a full flight of stairs without assistance. This served as a good foundation for Ryan, who was intent on returning to the gym, work and to playing basketball. He was also committed to continuing his rehabilitation through outpatient therapy.

Ryan offered advice to others facing similar challenges: "Keep your head up, listen to the therapists and nurses and stay focused." His recovery is not just a story of physical healing, but of the importance of support and perseverance.

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