In profile: Prateek Khandelwal

We continue our series of inspirational stories with Prateek Khandelwal. Through hard work, he has progressed from being wheelchair bound to walking with assistive devices for short periods of time. In this post he reflects on his SCI journey thus far.

Prateek, leaving the wheelchair behind

Can you tell us when and how you were injured, your level of injury and the initial diagnosis on the ASIA scale?

 I was injured on May 30, 2014 when I was climbing down the stairs in a building that was under construction. I tripped and fell a floor below, landing on the stairs. The impact of falling on the edges of the stairs caused a contusion on the left side of my head and an incomplete SCI at T12. I never cared to find out the ASIA scale. It never mattered – I just had to recover.

Can you briefly outline your experience from the point of injury to the point of returning to a home environment?

I was in the hospital for a month. Initially, I didn’t realise what had happened to me and even what paralysis was. I was not told in any clear terms by any doctor. I was under the impression that I had just fractured a bone in my back and that it takes time to recover. I started my physiotherapy at home immediately after returning from the hospital thinking that I shall be fine in 3 to 6 months; I never realised the kind of impact a SCI has on your body.

I was working out 6 to 7 hours per day. I only began to understand the seriousness of the injury after 6 months when no major changes took place, and I was forced to go online and find out what the hell happened to me. In hindsight, this ignorance for about 6 months helped me, because I was already involved in a rigorous physiotherapy routine. This filled up the spaces in my head, which otherwise would have focused on my completely different body type and the daunting fact that I may never be able to walk again. But then, I had different ideas. I decided to divert all my energy into one single goal: My recovery. 

What are the hardest parts of having a spinal cord injury that most people do not see?

Most people who suffer this injury find the various internal body changes and paralysis in itself as the hardest part that they go through.

I think the hardest part of a SCI is loss of self belief and self love, which contributes to a belief that you will never overcome the injury. I think recovery is possible through active exercises. Yes, it takes a long time. Yes, there are no proven medical solutions. Yes, the world around only gives you sympathy and pity. But I guess, even through all of this, if you really work diligently towards your recovery through the right exercises, have a direction, a goal, a belief and confidence in what your are trying to achieve, you will do much better. It is possible to regain functions in your paralysed body parts. It is possible to work your way around the nervous system damage that the SCI has caused. It is possible to gain control over things troubling you: Hyperactive bladder, erratic bowel movements, sexual challenges, loss of sensation, overwhelming spasticity and paralysis in itself. It is possible to be back on your feet again. It is possible to WALK. And you know where all this starts from? It starts from YOU. So keep working at your recovery everyday and your resolute mind will align your body with it.

Many medical professionals say that improvements in sensation or movement will plateau after 12, 18 or 24 months. Can you describe improvements you have had after 24 months, if any?

Most medical professionals fail to recognise the great healing power of the human body. I am constantly improving, whether it be motor or sensory. My return of sensation is much slower than my motor recovery. But I am continuously improving. Nervous system recruitment and recovery is possible to a good amount by doing the right set of functional exercises. I haven’t had any plateau in my recovery process, and to be really honest, I don’t read or believe in such articles. I try to connect with my nervous system during each exercise I do and then the nervous system will start responding to you eventually. I have gained a lot of sensation in my limbs in the last year (2 years after my injury) because now I can do standing exercises. Also, the increasing sensation and motor power is a sign that I am moving towards a healthy and normal life which my body is appreciating.

What type of exercises, equipment or therapy do you use to optimise your recovery, and, in your opinion, which of these has yielded the best results?

There isn’t a single exercise or equipment I can point out to which I could say yielded the best results. I have regained my ability to walk through a series of small term goals that I have tried to achieve in pursuit of the long term goal of walking. We (my physiotherapist and I) have advanced onto the next stage of recovery and tried to train in accordance with what this stage demands to meet the short term goal.

All my exercises are based in a home environment. So we started from very basic exercises on bed, to doing crawling on the floor, to doing innovative exercises with skates and the wheelchair, to doing different exercises inside parallel bars, to using a raised wooden plank for advanced exercises, to getting a small walking frame constructed inside my house where I could practice walking and standing using a harness, to walking using FES, to joining a gym for strength training, to using a treadmill for gait training, and so on and so forth. Basically, I made the best use of components available around me and used them effectively and creatively, with one big goal in mind: Life outside the wheelchair.

What is your long-term rehabilitation goal and, realistically, how do you think you will achieve it?

Personally, my long term goal is to walk without the aid of elbow crutches, which I am using right now to walk. The kind of rigorous physiotherapy at home in which I am involved – which is challenging and at the same time helping greatly in recruiting my nervous system in a better way – is on track to make me achieve that goal. I am recovering every day, and if I could, I would want to spread this message to people around the world who have given up on their recovery: Keep working at it and to never give up! Recovery is possible and possible at home! Quoting from the movie Finding Nemo, “We just gotta keep swimming. We are almost there!”

Search for Prateek Khandelwal on YouTube to see videos documenting his recovery.

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