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A rough twist in the road Big Bend professor makes noteworthy gains after summer bicycling accident

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  • A rough twist in the road Big Bend professor makes noteworthy gains after summer bicycling accident

    A rough twist in the road Big Bend professor makes noteworthy gains after summer bicycling accident

    By Lynne Miller
    Herald staff writer

    Vic Gilliland does exercises during a therapy session at St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane where he is currently a patient. A long-time member of Big Bend Community College's teaching staff, Gilliland's spinal cord was injured during a bicycling accident this summer.
    For the first time in 36 years, Vic Gilliland hasn't kicked off a new school year at Big Bend Community College.
    Marathon running, bicycle riding and physically pushing himself to the extreme used to be how Gilliland spent his spare time when he wasn't teaching biological sciences, geology, physical geography and environmental sciences at BBCC.
    The 69-year-old is still recovering from a bicycling accident that transformed his life this summer, resulting in a spinal cord injury. Gilliland was competing in a time trial series near Benton City with the Chinook Cycling Club out of Yakima. The accident occurred when Gilliland didn't look up in time from his aerodynamic position to spot another cyclist who had stopped.
    And instead of welcoming new students to college and seeing fellow faculty members in an academic environment, Gilliland now spends his time in grueling physical therapy sessions at St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane. If he's not in a session, he's returning from one or on his way, like he was on Saturday morning.
    "Are you sleeping better?" a patient asked, as he approached Gilliland in a wheelchair.
    The long hallways of white, bright and sterile rooms with people struggling to relearn even the simplest of tasks are a far cry from a community college packed full of energetic students. Exercise machines, hand weights, occupational therapy and physical therapy sessions dominate Gilliland's time instead of class lectures, lesson preparation and exams.
    The more a person can do on his own, the better, Gilliland explained. And every day, he must work a different muscle group, so his muscles don't atrophy, and he must learn how to walk all over again.
    On Sept. 17, Gilliland spent his birthday at St. Luke's, where he was visited by nearly all of BBCC's math and science teaching staff. Now, flash forward nearly a month later to last Saturday, as Gilliland wheels himself to a therapy session, running a few minutes late because of the interview for this article. Saturday was like any other day at St. Luke's except for one highlight: It was the 60th day since Gilliland's accident.
    "Hurry up, man," one hospital staff member reminded Gilliland.
    Gilliland is able to brush his teeth, comb his hair and dress himself. And now he equates his day-to-day activities to a marathon or worse, as far as his fatigue level goes. Gilliland categorizes his condition as an incomplete quadriplegic, because his spinal cord wasn't completely severed during the accident.
    "The main thing here is being able to adapt your condition as it is," Gilliland said.
    And adapt he has. From the terrifying first moments of the accident, where Gilliland said he had no feeling in his arms and legs, to when he was a patient in the intensive care unit at a Richland hospital, to today, Gilliland has made progress.
    Last week, he walked 1,300 feet with a walker and then 440 feet with close guard assistance (when a belt is behind the patient, to guard against falling). Another highlight included the removal of his neck brace, which he had been wearing all day for the past 57 days.
    Also last week, Gilliland received a trophy from a representative of the Chinook Cycling Club, because he was leading in the time trials immediately before his accident.
    "The whole experience has been a complete adjustment of my whole life. The name of the game is readjustment," Gilliland said.
    Meanwhile, back in Moses Lake, a group of BBCC instructors rallied to teach Gilliland's classes. One of those teachers is Kathleen Duvall, who called Gilliland "quite an inspiration," because he remains upbeat and focused.
    Duvall also said that Gilliland approaches his recovery with the same dedication he devoted to his athletic endeavors.
    "I thought he was doing great," Duvall said during a visit last week.
    Gilliland said that as of last week, it was estimated that he should be released by Nov. 1 to return to Moses Lake. He said his living situation will depend on his condition and he plans to play it by ear as to when he'll return to teaching.
    Although it's clear Gilliland has been pushing himself to regain everything he's lost, he doesn't forget who helped him get there. He acknowledged that he owed his recovery to a lot of prayer and support from family, friends and colleagues.
    "It sounds like his athletic ability will pull him through it," said Joe Rogers, an anthropology instructor at BBCC.

  • #2
    Good luck to him on his recovery. I hope he continues to progress.


    • #3
      Dr. Wise Young,

      Thank u for the post.

      As a former marathoner and professonal triathlete your words resonated with me.
      Best of luck to Vic.



      • #4
        Vic Gilliland continues recovery

        Vic Gilliland continues recovery

        By Lynne Miller
        Herald staff writer

        Sometimes the simple things are the most significant. Two weeks ago, Vic Gilliland made a big step in his recovery from a spinal cord injury -- he twisted the switch to turn a lamp on, as shown in this photo.
        When cards and letters started flooding in from all across the country, Vic Gilliland knew he wasn't alone in his journey. Last summer, Gilliland suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury in a bicycling accident during a timed trials event.
        The 69-year-old is continuing work on regaining full range of motion in his arms and legs. On Oct. 31, he improved enough to be moved from Spokane's St. Luke's Rehabilitation Center to the Hearthstone Inn in Moses Lake.
        Gilliland, a professor at Big Bend Community College, experienced an outpouring of support from his former students, past co-workers and current colleagues, as well as "a lot" of positive support at his temporary residence, he explained.
        "I had all of these prayer warriors," Gilliland said. "I feel a lot has been accomplished in my life over four months."
        He even received a card from a student he hadn't heard from in 35 years.
        "She said I talked her into not dropping my class and I don't even remember doing it," Gilliland said. "I didn't have an inkling I'd influenced her."
        Gilliland has experienced some entertaining diversions while at Hearthstone. The third week of his time at the facility, he reverted back to teaching.
        He gave a one hour geology talk to residents on the Great Spokane Flood, shared the work of the late geologist, J Harlan Bretz and showed the 13 minute educational video "Cataclysms on the Columbia."
        "I had a great time, it was fun," Gilliland said.
        The history gleaned from Hearthstone's residents has turned out to be a bonus for Gilliland. He's learned about World War II experiences from former servicemen.
        "It's an interesting place here. You can write a story on everybody's life here if you wanted to," Gilliland said.
        But Gilliland know he still has work to do.
        His major goals are to build up strength in his arms and torso. Proof of this will come when he can put on a long sleeve shirt and jacket. Today, he is walking with the aide of a walker and a gait belt (a safety belt that prevents falls while walking).
        He wears a compression glove three times a day, which helps him with a range of motion in his hands. Two weeks ago, he accomplished a task that may seem small: turning on a lamp.
        "The best therapy for me is being here and doing things alone," Gilliland said.
        Gilliland estimates he'll be out of Hearthstone in a couple of months. At some point, he said he would like to talk to elementary school children about the importance of wearing a helmet while bicycling.
        After his accident, "the gravel was embedded in my helmet," Gilliland said.
        Each hallway at Hearthstone is 700 feet long, plenty of room for indoor strolls with a walker. But, compared to St. Luke's, "this is leisure," Gilliland said. "At St. Luke's, they put you through so much. Not a day goes by without therapy."
        Gilliland said he wouldn't be where he is now if it wasn't for his son Steve and daughter-in-law Jolene, who both live in Moses Lake. He also mentioned how his daughter Stephanie even addressed his Christmas cards.
        Progress has been good, but too fast for Gilliland. His doctor and therapist asked him to slow down because they want to see greater regeneration in his body through small improvements. Tendons and ligaments have to be gradually broken in, he explained.
        "I tend to want to push myself too much," Gilliland said. "This recovery from the spinal cord injury is going to be very slow, steady and challenging."
        Gilliland takes advantage of every opportunity to improve his progress, even when visitors arrive to see him.
        "I pick on people. Grab this gait belt," he said. "Dick Deane says 'faster, faster'...I purposely pick on people who are big and strong."
        He'll have guests massage his hands to force the lymphadema out and walk the stairs with him.
        Another type of therapy happens when his son bring his German Shepherd dog over. Even stroking the pet is good therapy for his hands.
        "When you go through what I have, everyone's your support team," Gilliland said. "People take so much for granted. I'm so grateful I can do what I can do."