Fighting to be at his best

Rehabilitation patient overcomes paralysis

Strolling to class, Allen Collins – A.C. to friends – seems like a typical college student.

His quiet demeanor and megawatt smile don’t betray the enormous physical and emotional challenges he’s overcome to be there, walking across campus.

A few years ago, in the span of a few months, A.C. had gone from an Army National Guardsman stationed in Qatar to a nearly paralyzed hospital patient back in Kansas City.

Physicians diagnosed an inoperable tumor growing near his spine. Radiation treatments shrank the tumor, improving his condition, but he was told he may never walk again.

A.C. believed otherwise. “I decided if I was going to be in this body, I’d fight to be the best I can,” he said.

Physical therapy team leader Tamara Neff well remembers A.C.’s steely determination during inpatient rehabilitation therapy at The University of Kansas Health System.

“He worked so hard and just would not give up,” she said. But Neff admits she’d had to bite her tongue over A.C.’s rehab goal to walk in a month, ready for a house with stairs. 

His rehab included learning to stand with parallel bars and walking on a treadmill with a harness system. “It’s my job to push patients to give their all,” Neff said, “but A.C. kept pushing me!”

Four weeks later, he left using a walker. Goal accomplished! A man of few words, he summed up his experience as “first class.”

A.C.’s next goal was to walk unassisted before winter’s first snowfall. And he did – barely four months after he’d been paralyzed. Soon after, he was driving.

Last spring, A.C. returned to surprise Neff and his inpatient rehabilitation team. There were more than a few teary eyes. His outpatient rehabilitation ended a few months later.

While the inoperable tumor makes his future uncertain, A.C. says he focuses on moving forward, shaping a new life for himself at 23. “Anything is possible,” he said firmly.

He’s now enrolled at Johnson County Community College – another goal, achieved.