Alin Almonte-Peña is an avid basketball player and car enthusiast. Things changed for the 21-year-old, when he was sidelined due to a traumatic brain injury.
"I don't remember what happened, but they told me that I was hit by a car and fell on the ground. The car hit a sign that fell on me and hit me in the head," he said. On top of the brain injury, he was left with multiple fractures to his skull and neck and spasmodic torticollis, a chronic neurological disorder causing the neck muscles to contract involuntarily.
He spent more than three months at University Hospital, where doctors placed a shunt to relieve the pressure in his head. Once he was stabilized, it became clear that intensive rehabilitation was the only path to returning to his passions.
Alin and his family chose Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation – West Orange for the next phase of recovery because of the recommendations. "They said there were other people there with my condition and Kessler would be the best place for me."
Upon arrival, he faced a range of physical and cognitive challenges, including loss of balance, weakness in his left arm, difficulty paying attention to tasks and the inability to walk independently. "I wasn't able to walk at all when I got here…I couldn't sit up by myself," he said.
Alin's goal was to regain his mobility, strength and skills to resume doing what he loved. "I wanted to be able to play basketball and baseball again one day," he said. His physician-led team of rehabilitation nurses, physical, occupational and speech therapists, and other specialists developed a treatment plan to get him back in the game.
While his nurses provided wound care for his head injuries, his physical therapists focused on improving his balance, strength and mobility through various gait training exercises using innovative technologies. He practiced walking on the treadmill and in the hallways using the Ekso robotic exoskeleton, LiteGait and Andago body-weight support systems. "I was always excited to go to therapy and practice walking…I didn't show it, but I really wanted to go and get better," he said.
"There was a point when I said, 'Okay, now we are going somewhere'…I was able to start walking without a machine with assistance from my therapist. This was the point where I knew we were making good progress."
Similarly, in occupational therapy, Alin focused on improving his arm strength and ability to perform daily activities. He used the RTI functional electrical stimulation (FES) bike for his arm, which uses electrical pulses to stimulate muscle movements, and the Xcite FES device for his posture and core strength. His therapists also provided adaptive techniques to perform daily activities through simulation. "I liked cooking pancakes with my occupational therapist, Emily, but they started to stick on the pan because we didn't have any butter," he said jokingly.
His family provided constant support, helping him prepare for therapies and participating in Kessler's family education training to ensure a safe transition home. "My dad has always been next to me in the hospital," Alin recalled. "He has been taking care of me in any way that he can…My mom learned how to help me walk and do the stairs."
After seven weeks, Alin was prepared to go home, but not before acknowledging his Kessler care team. "It felt like I got to know my therapists really well and they learned how to help me…Everybody was very helpful and helped me get back home," he said.
Upon discharge, he described his overall rehabilitation experience as "very positive" and looked forward to getting his hair cut at the barbershop. He planned to continue his recovery as an outpatient.
Throughout his recovery journey, Alin learned the importance of hard work and dedication. "I learned that if I put dedication and time into the therapy, I could do a lot of things," he exclaimed. He encouraged others in a similar situation to do the same. "If you put your time into it and you work hard, you can do it."