"Think Possible" is a reality for Jillian
“It’s crazy to think that in a year and a half I’ve gone from my normal life … to the lowest point … to basically back to where I was before, if not better!” Jillian Harpin
Delicately encircling 25-year-old Jillian Harpin’s throat is a necklace inscribed with the words “Think Possible.” Gifted by her friends at Gaylord, the necklace’s inscription represents more than the hospital’s tagline. Rather, it’s a pledge that the young paraplegic and her therapists take to heart in their quest to transcend the limits of her disability.
While vacationing in Mexico in April of 2016, Jillian propped herself onto the railing of her hotel room’s balcony to take a phone call. The young woman slipped backwards and plunged three stories to the ground, paralyzing her from the chest down. She was told she would never stand or walk again. “There was a lot of uncertainty,” Jillian recalled. “I was scared that I’d never drive a car, have a relationship, or feel the crunch of leaves under my feet.”
Jillian was flown home to Connecticut and admitted to Gaylord Hospital. It was a carefully researched decision, her family said, based entirely on giving her the best chance of recovering to the fullest extent possible. The Harpin family was pleased to learn that Gaylord doctors and therapists aren’t just experts in their fields, but are nationally and internationally recognized healthcare leaders. Gaylord’s expertise is not only reflected by the numerous “Top Doc” and other respected healthcare awards bestowed on many of its staff, but is externally validated by its accreditations by the Joint Commission and CARF (The Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities).
The Hospital’s latest CARF survey recently earned Gaylord the distinction of being the only facility in Connecticut to be accredited for both its in- and out-patient services and for its stroke, spinal cord injury, and traumatic brain injury programs. Gaylord’s reputation for high-quality care and exceptional patient satisfaction, coupled with innovative programs including its recently opened complex stroke unit and adolescent spinal cord injury suites, and its role as the only Connecticut hospital to be part of a spinal cord injury model system, makes Gaylord the prime destination for specialty care after serious illness or injury.
But among everything that Gaylord offered, one program particularly piqued Jillian’s interest. In her first weeks at Gaylord, Jillian’s therapist told her about the Ekso Bionics wearable exoskeleton - the only device of its kind in Connecticut - that would let her stand and walk again. “That was news to me,” she exclaimed, “I didn’t think that was possible!”
The battery-powered suit helps patients with lower-extremity paralysis or weakness from a spinal injury or neurologic condition, including stroke or multiple sclerosis, ambulate by providing the power to alternately put one foot in front the other.
Each week in outpatient therapy, Jillian logs thousands of steps through Gaylord’s corridors. The physical benefits to its users are many including improved circulation and bladder function and increased bone density. But for Jillian, the greatest benefit of all is the feeling of freedom. “Having face-to-face conversations with my friends is liberating,” she said. “When I am in Ekso, I can’t stop smiling!”
Since her injury, Jillian has been on a mission to “try out as many different ‘impossible’ tasks that people wouldn’t expect to see from someone in a wheelchair” and credits Gaylord Hospital for helping her regain the physical strength and confidence needed to crush her goals. “I’m driving, working, dating, I’ve been to concerts. I’ve gone skiing, waterskiing, tried wheelchair archery and basketball and even finished a half-marathon!” she said.