I’m joined today by Amy Johnson, who suffered a spinal cord injury nearly 30 years ago. In this episode, we talk about how the NeuFit Method and the Neubie have helped her regain strength in her legs and get her walking for the first time!
Garrett: On this episode, I’m joined by Amy Selinsky, who shares her story of how she as used Neufit to recover from paralysis 25 years after her original spinal cord injury. It’s a very inspirational story, and I’m so excited for you to hear it next. It is a pleasure to be here with Amy Selinsky. Amy, thank you for joining us.
Amy: You’re very welcome. I’m happy to be here.
Garrett: And I’m really excited to share your story. I think that everyone listening and watching is going to find it super inspirational and it’s been an absolute privilege to get to know you and work with you over the past few years. And I’m excited to dive in here. So can you just tell us a little bit about your original injury and some of the backstory.
Amy: Yep. Yep. So I was originally injured almost 30 years ago now. I was thrown from a horse. I broke my neck at C 67 for anybody who knows about vertebrae and where those are. And then I also broke my back at T 12. So originally like right off the bat, I was completely paralyzed from my chest down. I had no feeling, no movement. I wasn’t breathing on my own. So I spent about four or five days on a ventilator. It was incredible. So I spent a month in a regular hospital and then four months after that in a rehab hospital, just trying to get anything back. I started to get a little bit of feeling back. My hands and arms were initially very weak. That strength kind of came back fairly quickly. I spent a lot of time building that up.
I got a little bit of movement and some feeling in my legs, but not enough to actually do anything functional. So over the years I would try to go back to therapy and do different things to try to maximize the return that I did have. And again, I would see slight improvements sometimes, but not enough to make a difference in my day to day life. It wasn’t anything functional that would happen. So basically, I mean, you learn to live with what you’ve got and I never let it slow me down. I lived a good life.
Garrett: And then, so when we first met, it was about three years ago. You had a little bit of sensation in your legs. What actual function did you have?
Amy: So I had a little bit of quad muscle where I could extend my leg out a little bit, but I couldn’t get a full extension.
Garrett: Like it got a few inches, a few degrees.
Amy: Yes a few degrees out. So I couldn’t really like hold it there or anything like that.
Garrett: On both legs or just?
Amy: Both legs, but my left leg was a little bit stronger.
Garrett: Yeah. And were you able to wiggle your toes a little bit?
Amy: Just a tiny, tiny bit. Not really, I get just a little bit of a movement out of it, but nothing significant. You gotta look really close to see it.
Garrett: Yeah. Under the microscope.
Amy: We gotta be watching very carefully.
Garrett: Okay. And then can you share the story of our first time meeting and working together and what your experience was in that first session?
Amy: Yeah, so a friend of mine Jeff Davis knew one of the trainers here and they were kind of talking and he had said that there was some improvement seen by people with spinal cord injuries. And so Jeff introduced me and came in for the initial evaluation and really I had zero expectations. I kind of just came in with an open mind. Let’s see what happens and if I get a little bit of improvement, that’s great. If nothing happens, that’s great. Life is fine. I’ll be good. And so when I first came in you guys did a full evaluation. I was laying on the table and you basically tested every single muscle to see what was getting anything.
And it was kind of strange, obviously to feel the electric current going through my body in different ways. And it was like making weird things react and it was funny because afterwards, like when I left the session, I had a strange feeling and I didn’t know exactly what it was at first. It was just kind of like an adrenaline kind of thing from the current going through my body. But then later that night I was thinking about it and it was weird because it kind of showed me all the things that I couldn’t do because I hadn’t tried to move those muscles in so long, that it was a little bit like I just don’t ever focus on what I couldn’t do. So it was weird to like, have it kind of thrown in my face a little bit about, oh, you really can’t do all these things, you just don’t even try.
And so that was a little bit crazy. And then that night I went to sleep and I woke up at 2 o’clock in the morning and felt like, I think I can move my leg. And I remember pulling the covers back and pulling my knee all the way up to my chest and just being in complete shock. And it’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I can’t tell anybody because everybody in the world is asleep. So I remember calling you that next morning, going alright, sign me up. What do we need to do? This is amazing.
Garrett: I remember that. And I think it’s so interesting just to spend a moment and unpack that because in that first session, it’s an impossibly short period of time for you to build new muscle or generate new nerves or really make significant neurological neuroplastic changes. And so to some degree, I think we have to conclude that you actually had that ability already within you. As you mentioned, you were just so used to not being able to do things that we get into this pattern of learned disuse, Since you can’t do something, you don’t do it. And then you kind of prevent yourself from even trying or even doing any of it. And so in the beginning there, I think it was a process of lifting off those governors or those protective mechanisms where you had learned not to go outside of that little box. And then, through the signals and the feedback from that first session, your brain and nervous system started to learn that there was something outside of that box.
Amy: Right. Kind of like woke my brain back up and go, oh, there is some stuff down there.
Garrett: And then let’s talk about the subsequent three years. So I had that first session early on where we’re tapping into functions that you already have. And then at some point, very, very soon in that process, we had to transition into this longer-term process of trying to tap into neuroplasticity, try to teach your nervous system to adapt, whether it’s actually rebuild pathways or make new connections to create new detours or pathways. So can you talk about, the three years since then, and the consistent work you’ve been doing and milestones that kind of stand out along the way for you?
Amy: Yeah. Yeah. So definitely in the beginning it was a lot of just reconnecting my brain to those muscles. And so in the beginning we would start, and a lot of times Austin would have to actually move my leg through the movements. And while he was doing that, I was consciously trying to have my brain find those muscles again. And then they would start to work on their own. And a couple of things, I expected especially after that first thing, that I would start to see some reconnection in the muscles and rebuild strength and function in that way. But what really surprised me was when I started, like my sensation started to improve. And I thought that I had fairly good sensation until it started to come back even more.
And then I realized, oh, I was probably only at maybe about 40%. I feel like now the sensations throughout my body has gotten closer to like 90%. So that was amazing. Before I wasn’t able to feel hot and cold temperatures below my level of injury. So like for my chest down, example when I was in the shower, I could feel the water hit my leg, but I couldn’t tell if it was hot or cold. And then one morning I was in the shower, probably I think it was maybe at the most, two months after we started and the water hit my foot. And I was like, oh, that water’s pretty warm. And then it hit me that water’s warm. I felt that water warm on my foot.
And so it was an amazing moment. And it was like being a child again and rediscovering all these sensations. Like the first time I put my barefoot on a cold tile floor and like, wow, this is an incredible feeling, like I forgot what this feels like. And so all of that was amazing. And then the other thing I remember very well, the text message I sent you when this one happened was I was not able to sweat below my level of injury before, which of course, it’s very common with spinal cord injuries. And it’s actually really not good for your body because that’s obviously the way your body regulates heat and cools you off. And I remember I was out exercising one day and when I went to get back in the car, I realized that I had been sweating.
My butt was wet from sitting in my chair. And I remember texting you and being I get so excited, my butt’s sweating. And so I remember texting you that, and you asking me, can I share this? I was like, yes, of course. Like normally I would never want anyone to know that, but this is an incredible thing. And I want everybody to know. So like those type of neurological changes really surprised me. And it also really eliminated for me how much this goes through your entire nervous system. And it’s not just directly into that muscle. And it’s really reconnecting everything.
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Amy: So one of the other really, really cool things that stands out to me in my mind was when my hamstring started working again. And this one, it was so incredible the way that my brain reconnected. I mean, I can’t even describe what the feeling was. So when I first started, I didn’t have any hamstring movement at all. Like I couldn’t even contract the muscle, let alone get any type of movement out of it. And so we were really working hard on the hamstrings. We put the pads on, we do it over and over and still wasn’t getting any movement out of it. And there was one time Austin was doing the exercise with me. I was laying on my stomach. We were doing a hamstring curl and he would have to pull my leg up the whole time.
And the whole time I’m concentrating on those hamstrings, I can feel the current going in there and all of that. And then on the third set, he turns the machine on, the current goes into the hamstring and it was like immediately I just felt something incredible in my brain. I don’t even know how to describe it. It was like all of a sudden, my brain said, I know what we’re doing now. And I was able to pull my leg up on my own. And so there was just a switch that went off and it was like, you don’t feel your brain. So it’s weird to think that all of a sudden I felt, it was almost like a movement in my brain. I don’t know, it was like a cartoon light bulb went off.
Like you felt that thing. And so it was amazing. And that was one of the biggest things that has always stood out for me. And then one of the other things, we obviously started with, we took the approach of let’s relearn to walk the same way that a baby does. And so we started with learning to roll over and that’s incredibly hard to do when you have no core muscles. And so as my muscles got stronger, we were working on that. And I can just remember so many times laying on the floor and rolling over and rolling back into, I struggled so hard and now I can do that. And I don’t even have to think about it anymore. And so that was incredible.
And then we started crawling and, working with that and crawling forwards and crawling backwards and getting into a kneeling position, basically just mimicking all the steps that a baby does because obviously the baby’s doing it in that order because they have to build up those muscles to be able to get to the point where you can walk again. And so it’s a really cool approach and it’s working.
Garrett: And then right around the end of the first year, is I think when you started standing with hand support, taking your first couple steps.
Garrett: And then we had the that long hallway in the old office. Can you talk about your progression from being introduced to walking, to breaking the four minute mile?
Amy: Yeah. So, I mean, when we first did it, it was kind of like walking across the width of the treatment room.
Garrett: 12 feet.
Amy: Yeah it was a milestone. And then it was like, okay, I can do that easily now, so let’s walk the length of the treatment room and that was a little bit longer. And then we got to the point where that wasn’t enough. So we started going out into that hallway and we were tracking all the time, like, how far could I go? And then how fast could I go? And I remember one time making it all the way down to the end and back again, without having to stop and rest, like we got to the point, it used to be that Austin would push the chair behind me. So whenever I needed to sit, I could sit and rest. And then we got to the point where we could just leave the chair there. I could walk all the way down the hallway and back again and be good.
So yeah, it was just amazing to feel that build up. And then when I started walking on the treadmill that was even more amazing still, because you have to work at a different pace. And even when I started that, I would stand up, walk a little bit and then rest and then walk and then I would have to sit down and then stand back up again, walk a little bit more, rest, walk a little more rest. And then I got to the point where I was standing up and still taking breaks to rest in between the walking, but being able to stand up for like 45 minutes and not have to sit down. So definitely just amazing. I’m still in awe every day of what I can do now and how things have changed and just still looking forward to what more is happening, just keeps getting better.
Garrett: And I have to applaud you for being so consistent and diligent and as we kind of zoom out and reflect on the last few years, there’s obviously significant progress. I mean, we have movement, you’re able to walk with the walker and then do far more than ever before. And as enormous as that is when we zoom in, week over week and month over month, it’s these really small victories, these little small, but distinct and tangible bits of progress. And they’ve really added up to something special.
Amy: Yes, definitely. Yeah, I mean, it’s been a lot of work and I come in three times a week, usually for an hour and a half at a time. So it’s definitely a, a big commitment and it takes a lot of effort. I mean, it’s not one of those things people sometimes think like, oh, well you just put the electrodes on and they do everything. That’s definitely not the way it works. You have to actually put a lot of effort in yourself, but it hasn’t been. People say, oh, it’s really incredible that you can continue to do that. And how do you make yourself get up to do that and everything, it’s not hard because I’m seeing progress all the time. So that’s the motivation to come back in all the time, because why would I not?
Garrett: That’s been so fun for me and inspiring and exciting just to even watch week over week. Literally it’s like back when we were in the old office, it was, first like you said, it was a few feet, and then when you could walk the length of the hall, it was like 13 minutes. And then that four minute mile like would go down a minute or two faster every week, every two weeks, and then eventually breaking down, breaking four minutes and getting even faster, that was so cool. Can you share with everybody this past holiday season, there was a really, really cool story with your family. Can you just share that with everybody here too?
Amy: Yeah. So I got to the point where I was actually using my walker at home quite a bit, as far as like, because at first it was just doing it during therapy sessions. And then I got to the point where I could actually walk around the house a little bit at home. And so my sister and her family were coming into town and we were going to meet them for dinner. And I said, I think I’m at the point where I could actually walk into that restaurant with the walker. And the funny thing is, this is my sister who was riding horses with me the night that I got hurt. So she’s been there with me obviously from the very, very beginning. And so I didn’t tell anybody that I was going to do it and so we went to the restaurant, I made sure everybody else got there first and was seated and then went in and I walked in and at first they didn’t notice.
And then my brother-in-law looked up and saw me and like the expression on his face. And he kind of tapped my sister and they started watching and the whole restaurant is watching me as I’m walking in. Of course, nobody else in the room knows my story. And so as I get closer I locked eyes with my sister and I just started crying and she started crying and it was just the most amazing thing, that was the first time I’d walked into a restaurant in 30 years. So it was really, really an amazing moment. I never thought that would happen again.
Garrett: Oh my goodness. You’ve given me chills.
Amy: Yeah. I feel like I’m going to cry right now.
Garrett: Thank you so much for sharing that.
Amy: You’re welcome.
Garrett: So what’s next?
Amy: I don’t even know. I mean, we’re just going, taking it day to day, just keep working at it, keep getting stronger. My goal is to get to the point where I’m using a Walker most of the time and the chair not very much at all. And then progress to the point where maybe I don’t even need the walker, so that’s my goal and I keep working for it.
Garrett: Well, we’ll have to do another episode to check in as you reach those next frontiers of progress. This is fabulous though. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s certainly inspiring to me and our team, and I hope that people out there find inspiration in it and that you are such an amazing example of how we can adapt and overcome challenges. And although we used to think that the nervous system was hardwired and couldn’t rebuild or adapt or make these types of changes. I mean, you have shown that we can. So thank you for being such an inspiration.
Amy: You’re welcome. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.
Garrett: It’s our pleasure. It is absolutely our pleasure. Thank you Amy.
Amy: You’re welcome.
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