In early January of 2011, Georgetown College freshman Michelle Konkoly returned to campus from a coaching journey to Puerto Rico with the varsity’s NCCA Division I ladies’s swimming & diving group. She was pumped for a postseason run and for her second semester as a biology main. The longer term regarded brilliant. “I had a fairly good fall semester,” she mentioned. “I used to be in the course of the swim group with loads of potential and had my eyes on the document board.” Her focus would quickly dramatically change.
On the night of January 11, Konkoly opened a window in her dorm room to let in some recent air. She stood on a desk to pry it open, misplaced her footing, and fell feet-first out the window to the bottom, 5 tales under. She shattered a number of bones, together with her L2 vertebrae in her backbone. She was rushed to George Washington College Hospital, the place she underwent three surgical procedures to fuse her shattered backbone and heel bones.
Now 28 years previous, Konkoly is a fourth-year medical scholar at Sidney Kimmel Medical School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She nonetheless sees her future as brilliant. Actually, the accident paved the best way for her to grow to be a Paralympian and influenced the kind of doctor she intends to be.
Within the preliminary aftermath of her fall, Konkoly had no thought what her life would maintain. “Docs averted giving a long-term prognosis instantly, which is cheap,” she mentioned. “I may wiggle my toes slightly bit proper after the accident. Due to that, there was hope.”
That hope would gas an extended restoration. After an preliminary 2-week hospital keep, Konkoly was transferred to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia. She spent a number of weeks there — initially as an inpatient and later as an outpatient — engaged in actions and workout routines meant to assist get up the broken nerves in her legs. Konkoly started to query how a lot her plans for the long run must change.
“I used to be telling everybody I used to be going to stroll out of the hospital in a number of weeks,” she mentioned. “Nobody informed me I would not, however on the similar time, my mother and father had been informed to construct a wheelchair ramp for the home.” Konkoly says the preliminary consensus was that she was prone to regain some operate in her legs, though the diploma of doable restoration remained unclear. “Individuals had been saying I’d want a wheelchair for longer distances, or braces or crutches.”
In February of 2011, midway via her inpatient rehabilitation at Magee, Michelle Konkoly was positioned on a tilt desk as a way to enable weight bearing via her ft.
Throughout her inpatient keep at Magee, Konkoly obtained a shock go to from Adam Taliaferro, a former cornerback for the Penn State Nittany Lions soccer group who sustained a paralyzing spinal cord injury in September 2000 and underwent rehab at Magee. “When he walked into my room and informed me that he works out on the elliptical day by day I used to be like, ‘Wow. Individuals with spinal twine accidents can get married, have children, have a job, and work out day by day,'” she mentioned. “That gave me hope that my day-to-day life could be regular and fulfilling.”
Swimming Right into a Golden Future
About 3 months after her fall, Konkoly took her first steps. Earlier than lengthy, she was again within the pool.
Konkoly continued outpatient rehabilitation, together with locomotor coaching, which helps retrain the mind’s neural pathways on a gait sample. After 6 months, she regained the power to stroll unassisted. In August of 2011, she returned to Georgetown for her sophomore yr and rejoined the swimming and diving group, which ultimately named her a captain.
Swimming quickly grew to become her sole mode of train and rehabilitation. Throughout her childhood rising up in Eagleville, Pennsylvania, Konkoly was drawn to swimming due to its direct correlation between work and outcomes. “Usually, when you work actually arduous in swimming, you’ll get sooner and have tangible outcomes,” she mentioned.
Though swimming did assist her grow to be stronger and sooner after her harm, she ultimately realized that — irrespective of how arduous she labored — some weak spot in her legs could be everlasting. “The aggressive swimming a part of my life was not going to be the identical,” Konkoly mentioned. “I grappled with that slightly bit.”
Christopher S. Formal, MD, an attending doctor at Magee who was a part of Konkoly’s care group, was impressed by how properly she recovered. “In my expertise, most individuals with comparable accidents wouldn’t have been in a position to achieve a lot operate,” he mentioned. “I believe her being naturally athletic and hardworking had been in her favor.” That dedication and starvation for competitors nonetheless wanted an outlet.
After incomes her undergraduate diploma at Georgetown, she deferred her acceptance to medical college for two years as a way to practice full-time for the 2016 Summer season Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. “On the one hand I used to be anxious, like, ‘Would I neglect the best way to examine? Would I be behind academically after I began med college?'” she mentioned. “My mother and father had been shocked after I conveyed this plan to them.”
Konkoly moved to Naples, Florida to coach full-time, dwelling on a stipend from the US Paralympic group, together with some monetary assist from her no-longer-shocked mother and father and sponsors, together with a swimsuit firm. She additionally labored part-time jobs to make ends meet. The sacrifice paid off: she earned a gold medal within the 100-meter freestyle, a gold medal within the 50-meter freestyle, and silver and bronze medals in relay races.
Michelle Konkoly realizes that she received the gold medal within the 100-meter freestyle on the 2016 Summer season Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Following the 2016 Summer season Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Michelle Konkoly and different members of the US Paralympic group met with President Barack Obama within the White Home.
From the Pool to Med College
In July 2017, Konkoly started medical college, grateful to be in that atmosphere after devoting a lot time coaching for the Paralympics. “The ‘post-Video games depression‘ signs are so actual, even for athletes who’re very profitable,” she mentioned. “For therefore lengthy, you’ve gotten such an outlined objective, schedule, and objectives, after which as soon as the Video games are over, all of that simply evaporates. Medical college additionally offers all of these objectives, nevertheless, so having that subsequent on my horizon actually helped my transition.”
Her largest takeaway from being again within the hospital — this time as a trainee — was how horrifying the expertise of getting a severely injured little one is for relations. “Once I was the affected person, I actually did not grasp how tough that point was for my household,” Konkoly mentioned. “Seeing a affected person from an outdoor perspective, nevertheless, and having conversations with terrified relations actually enlightened me to how scary these experiences are.”
Households of injured family members usually spend hours anticipating what may very well be only a 5-minute dialog with a doctor, she mentioned. Now intimately accustomed to each side of the doctor–affected person relationship, Konkoly feels an additional weight of accountability. “This realization has motivated me to be as clear and compassionate as doable when talking with households, as a result of this could considerably impression their belief and confidence within the supplier, which in flip, can considerably impression the affected person’s consequence.”
In the summertime of 2020, Konkoly returned to Magee, the place the place she had relearned the best way to stroll. She was reunited with Formal, this time for her rotation in bodily drugs and rehabilitation. She skilled below his supervision. She is at the moment making use of for residency packages and hopes to apply pediatric rehabilitation. “I beloved pediatrics as quickly as I began it,” she mentioned. “Youngsters are simply enjoyable; you possibly can joke round with them and be foolish. Lots of drugs could be very severe, so I like bringing [an aspect of fun] to extend morale.”
Michelle Konkoly at her rotation in bodily drugs and rehabilitation at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, the place she was cared for following a spinal twine harm in 2011.
Formal predicts a brilliant future for Konkoly, who’s the primary of his former sufferers to later spend a medical rotation below his supervision. “As a affected person, I believe she wished to make herself as higher as she may,” he mentioned. “Now, I believe she desires to make different folks as higher as they are often.” Formal believes the harm that first introduced them collectively will assist her excel as a doctor. “She’s been via having a major impairment. I believe that maybe goes to make her a greater practitioner for sufferers who’ve impairments.”
Konkoly says that she doesn’t share the story of her harm and restoration from a serious spinal twine harm usually with sufferers and their households. “I attempt to reserve it for occasions when it could be related” she mentioned. Having spent a lot time receiving care, Konkoly believes she is now uniquely positioned to supply it.
“Basically, I believe that my expertise helps me to higher talk with individuals who have disabilities, remembering to see the particular person and never the analysis,” she mentioned. “That’s one thing that my harm and my subsequent expertise within the Paralympics actually strengthened.”
Doug Brunk is a San Diego-based award-winning reporter for MDedge who started protecting well being care in 1991. His work has been syndicated by the Los Angeles Occasions, and he’s the writer of two books associated to the College of Kentucky Wildcats males‘s basketball program.