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Patient Stories

Work Accident Leads to New Endurance Recovery

Work Accident Leads to New Endurance Recovery Tom's Story

Following a near-death experience after an on-the-job fall, Tom Barnes has a newfound appreciation for life. The following words are printed on a sign that hangs at the entrance to the industrial rehabilitation section of the Reynolds Therapy Gym.

“What Is” by Tom Barnes

FEAR – the thought of not knowing your future and how you can handle it.

COURAGE – to know you hurt. Challenge yourself! Change will come.

COMMITMENT – days in physical therapy flourish. 2 days/week, 3-4 hours. 3 days/week, 4-6 hours. 4 days/week, 5-7 hours. Your all in.

STRENGTH – to not give up throughout the pain, sweat, exhaustion


BELIEVING – fear is a distant memory

Courage and strength have extinguished all doubt.

Commitment fulfilled. Your time is now!


Reading these words written by 52-year-old Tom Barnes, you wouldn’t guess he was at one time a big skeptic of physical rehabilitation.

“When I first came in and saw all the stuff I thought, ‘This isn’t going to work.’ Standing on this, putting in these little nuts and bolts, I’m thinking, ‘What is this going to do?’”

But Tom would give it a shot after not being able to walk for four months following an on-the-job injury that almost took his life.

“Back in January of this year, we were working on putting a roof on a shed on the back of a house and a board broke and I fell 12 feet. The guy who was up there with me fell across my mid-section knees first,” Tom said as he recounted the fall.

As a result, Tom was left with a host of serious injuries including an open book pelvic fracture, a broken sacrum, and several broken bones in the spine of his lower back. “I was pretty much broken in half horizontally and vertically,” he said. “My pelvis was six inches lower than where it should’ve been.” Doctors feared his pelvis would tear or sever the femoral artery, which supplies blood to the lower section of the body. Tom was in immediate danger; one sudden cough, sneeze, or burst of pain could’ve killed him.

The road to recovery would be long. After two surgeries in two days, an 18-day hospitalization, 10 weeks of non-weight-bearing restrictions, and in-home physical therapy, Tom began his physical therapy journey with Sheltering Arms – first at our Hanover outpatient clinic before enrolling in Work Hardening at Reynolds. “People ask me what I do for seven hours and I say, ‘You couldn’t even imagine.’”

Work Hardening is part of Sheltering Arms’ Industrial Rehabilitation Program which helps people recover from and avoid future workplace injuries. Work hardening is a highly structured program individualized for each patient to improve physical function and emulate on-the-job tasks. “I went to the job site and took pictures of a couple of different things to show my therapist what we were doing that I need to be able to do again,” Tom said about structuring his program.

“When Tom first started, balancing and squatting were challenging, so we worked a lot on exercises to improve his range of motion. For example, bending over and picking up bottles and moving them to different shelves on that bookcase,” said Lynn Hewette, physical therapist and senior member of the Industrial Rehabilitation Team. “Now, I don’t even need to guide him anymore, I just make his list of exercises.”

Tom walks breezily around the clinic checking tasks off his customized to-do list such as carrying heavy items on his shoulder and standing on a ladder while moving pegs on and off a board hung near the ceiling.

“Coming to Sheltering Arms has made a world of difference. Just from doing different types of exercises, I feel strong as I was back when I was 25 or 30 years old. Lynn has gotten my flexibility almost to where it’s never been and I have confidence,” Tom said about his experience at Sheltering Arms. “The word impressed doesn’t even give it enough credit from how I felt from the beginning until now.”

Tom still has goals he’d like to reach like being able to sit and lie down for longer periods of time and put his socks on without an assistive tool. “I know I’ll never be 100 percent, but I’m getting close. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to tie my shoes again, but I can tie my shoes now if I put my feet up on something.”

When asked what he’s taken away from this experience, Tom said, “I have a new sense of appreciation for life. I know some things take time. I’ve always kind of been in a hurry, trying to push things. I’m not as bull-headed as I was.”

If you’d like to learn more about Industrial Rehabilitation at Sheltering Arms, call (804) 764-1000 or email industrial@shelteringarms.com.

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