A Walk to Remember

UPMC Rehabilitation Institute Helps Make a Seemingly Impossible Wedding Dream Come True

Megan Dow was an athletic, carefree 27-year-old with so much to look forward to — from her upcoming wedding to a new house and barn. But a freak ATV accident on Memorial Day 2010 changed her life in an instant, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.

It took a week for Megan to realize her broken neck and back wouldn’t be a quick fix and another six months to acknowledge that her paralysis might have permanent effects. Despite the diagnosis, the Negley, Ohio, resident was determined to walk down the aisle on her wedding day 16 months later.

“What means more to a girl than walking down the aisle at her wedding?” asks Megan, who became engaged just weeks before the accident.

Regaining the Life She Lost

Initially, she couldn’t sit up without help and wore braces to support her back, neck, and legs. “I went from doing everything to not being able to brush my teeth; from being able to throw a bale of hay to not being able to pick up a gallon of milk,” Megan says.

An avid outdoorswoman, Megan longed to return to her activities, including horseback riding, camping, volunteering as a 4H Club adviser, and working as an interior designer. “I absolutely loved the life I had before the accident. I had to work to bring these things back into my life,” she says.

At the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute’s spinal cord injury unit at UPMC Mercy, Megan’s team of specialists put her to work four hours a day, six days a week in an intensive rehabilitation program.

Luckily, she had use of her quadriceps, which allowed her to walk with the help of braces and a walker. Slowly, she relearned everyday skills like dressing herself and walking. She also learned new skills, such as transferring to a shower chair from her wheelchair, and did exercises to build her strength.

Megan vowed she’d walk without the walker by that Christmas (a goal she met by Thanksgiving) and down the aisle without a cane. A few weeks before her wedding, Megan donned her gown and practiced walking in the gym with her physical therapist.

Walking Happily into the Future

On her wedding day — Oct. 1, 2011 — Megan did walk down the aisle. Among the guests were her UPMC doctor, physical therapist, and occupational therapist. “They’re a huge part of my life and the reason I’m where I am today. They had to be there!” exclaims Megan.

“I’m so grateful to everyone at theRehabilitation Institute. They gave me the tools I needed, and they encouraged and steered me in the right direction.”
Megan and her husband Eric honeymooned in Cancún, Mexico, where they snorkeled, swam, kayaked, and even explored some ancient ruins.

Today, while she still uses a wheelchair and cane, Megan is thankful she can walk up to two hours with just leg braces. She’s also driving again, riding horses, camping, and doing other activities.

“It was a miracle. I’m so grateful I can still do what I used to do — I just do them differently,” Megan says.

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