Jonathan's story

Jonathan sitting in his hand-cycling bike.

Jonathan Perez, 19, is an aspiring motorcycle mechanic from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. In late 2020, Jonathan was shot six times during a drive-by shooting; one of the shots caused him to sustain a complete thoracic spinal cord injury, among other injuries. He was transported by helicopter from St. Thomas to Miami, where he was taken to Jackson Memorial Trauma Center and immediately given a blood transfusion due to the loss of blood from the gunshot wounds. In addition to his spinal cord injury, the shooting left Jonathan with multiple left-sided rib fractures, a collapsed lung and injuries to his left flank, groin and colon. These extensive injuries left him with paralysis in his lower body, which required catheterization.

Once stabilized, Jonathan was admitted to West Gables Rehabilitation Hospital where he began immediate intensive rehabilitation guided by a physician-led team. Once his sporadic blood pressure was stabilized, Jonathan’s occupational therapy and nursing team worked together to train Jonathan to manage his catheter every three hours in order to adapt his body to a bladder and bowel program. Nursing made sure that he received the correct medications daily and assisted with any personal needs he required. Meanwhile, his occupational therapists worked on teaching Jonathan how to use a transfer board, giving him the ability to be more independent when performing his personal care, including bathing, dressing, toileting, brushing his teeth, grooming and getting into his wheelchair.

Physical therapists helped Jonathan re-learn to stand with assistance by using several different pieces of equipment such as tilt table, standing frame and parallel bars while ensuring his heart rate and blood pressure remained stable, which is a challenge with spinal cord injury patients. Once he was ready, physical therapists focused on getting Jonathan a lightweight wheelchair that would provide him with the opportunity to achieve greater independence.

As his time at West Gables Rehabilitation Hospital continued, Jonathan worked hard on improving his strength, which involved daily weight training and pull-ups, as well as training to maneuver around curbs with his new wheelchair. His therapists also worked with him on how to handle a variety of scenarios he might be face, including what to do if he were to fall out of his wheelchair.

Jonathan’s rehabilitation journey introduced him to different adaptive sports that could be accomplished in his wheelchair. Because he was interested in basketball, cycling and soccer, therapists began by working with Jonathan to use a hand-cycling bicycle, which the City of Miami generously allowed him to borrow.  Expanding his therapy by using activities and sports that Jonathan enjoyed encouraged him to work harder and increase his upper body strength and endurance.

While at West Gables Rehabilitation Hospital, Jonathan was not only introduced to new leisure activities, but was educated on many resources that are available to him as a person with a spinal cord injury.  One was the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, which offered mentoring, and assisted the hospital in putting Jonathan in contact with a certified mentor who is currently living with paralysis or has been impacted by paralysis. The West Gables team also connected Jonathan with former spinal cord injury patients via Zoom and in-person. One former patient drove to West Gables in his own adapted car to show Jonathan how it worked. These resources helped Jonathan gain a new level of confidence. Connecting with other individuals with spinal cord injuries helped Jonathan gain a new level of confidence by demonstrating that a spinal cord injury does not mean his life has to be limited.

Jonathan made excellent progress during his time at West Gables Rehabilitation Hospital. Although the chances that he will walk again are low, there is much optimism that he will be able to regain some sensation and movement to his lower body with time and continued therapy. A former spinal cord injury patient who visited Jonathan told him that even though there is a chance that one day they would walk again, he cannot just wait around hoping for that to occur, reminding Jonathan that he must “adapt and work with what he currently has” and remain grateful for life, as different as it may be.

Jonathan is appreciative for the progress and resources provided to him at West Gables Rehabilitation Hospital, stating, “I am lucky to be alive.”