Kanaja's story

Photo of Kanaja Scott and her therapists at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation

Kanaja 'Naj' Scott was living life to the fullest – dancing and playing with her nephews and cherishing time with family in her free time. Her world turned upside down when she was shot and suffered a traumatic brain injury at only 19 years old.

“I was in the car and I got shot in the head. But I didn’t know, and I woke up in the hospital confused,” she said.

Rushed to Capital Health Regional Medical Center, Naj underwent a CT scan confirming she had bleeding and bone and bullet fragments in her brain. Her surgeons removed the damaged tissue and fragments and she was given a breathing and feeding tube. Once stabilized, Naj's family chose Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation (KIR) - West Orange to guide her on the path to recovery.

From the moment she arrived at Kessler, Naj faced an array of challenges stemming from her injury. She lost feeling in the entire left side of her body, had difficulty swallowing and talking, and was unable to walk, eat or drink on her own. Having led an active life, these major limitations weighed heavily on her.

Despite her initial struggles and confusion, Naj exhibited a unique resolve to regain her independence. Her goals were clear: to be able to walk and eat again on her own and “trying to be as normal as possible.”

A physician-led, interdisciplinary care team at (KIR) - West Orange created a comprehensive plan that included physical, occupational, speech and respiratory therapies. Physical therapy focused on gait training, incorporating Naj’s love for dancing and choreography to improve her mobility. With the utilization of advanced therapeutic walking devices such as the ARJO and LiteGait body-weight support systems, Naj made remarkable progress in standing, walking and navigating stairs.

Occupational therapy worked diligently to restore the sensation and strength in Naj's left hand. Her therapists utilized functional electrical stimulation (FES) with the RTI bike and Xcite machine. Prism adaptation therapy targeted her spatial neglect and visual attention deficits. Naj also enjoyed the companionship and support of Kessler’s therapy dog, Loomis, during her occupational therapy sessions.

Speech therapy played a pivotal role in helping Naj regain her ability to talk and eat. Through respiratory support and a video fluoroscopic swallow study, Naj was successfully weaned from the feeding tube and was able to eat solid foods.

Throughout her rehabilitation, Naj's family played an instrumental role in her recovery, providing support and actively participating in her education and training programs to ensure a safe transition home. “My family motivated me to keep pushing,” she said. Naj’s positive outlook and resilience allowed her to navigate the darkest moments of the tragedy with strength and determination.

Upon discharge, she looked forward to returning to normalcy, specifically “going to Wings Spot and hanging out with my nephews.” Her family will continue to support her at home while she attends outpatient therapy.

Reflecting on her rehabilitation experience, Naj praised her therapists for their motivation, professionalism and friendship. She learned that with determination, she can achieve anything she sets her mind to. “And I learned that my lifestyle like this is not permanent, it is just temporary for the moment until I work through it,” she said.

For those who find themselves in a similar situation, Naj offers this advice: “Don’t be lazy, put your mind to it and Kessler is the best place for you.”