Taking a First Step: Learning to Walk Again After Spinal Injury

Nearly 2,000 accidental shootings happen in the United States each year, and on April 7, 2019, it happened to 24-year-old Devin Puckett while he and a friend were hanging out after playing basketball.

“My friend and I were sitting in the house, and he was cleaning his gun and the gun accidentally went off,” Devin says. “He immediately picked me up and rushed me to the hospital.”

The single bullet went through Devin’s right arm, through the right side of his back, came out the left side of his back and hit his left arm. His spine and kidney were injured.

After he was stabilized, doctors told Devin’s parents, Cassandra Puckett and Calvin Williams, that the injury to his spine was likely permanent and so severe that his feet could no longer move up and down. The sad news was that Devin would not walk again. “That’s what they told my parents, and my parents told me,” Devin says.

After leaving the hospital, Devin tried to adjust to life in a wheelchair and moved back home with his mom after living alone before the accident.

Fortunately, Devin overcame the expectation that he would never walk again. As feeling returned, he regained strength and has been able to take steps on his own. He now uses a walker and canes, and he’s working toward walking on his own again unassisted.

“I just had that mindset that I wasn’t going to walk again, but I just kept the faith and I just kept believing I can walk,” Devin says. “I pushed myself and worked hard and tried to do it and I did it.”

Devin’s recovery took place at Baton Rouge Rehabilitation Hospital with outpatient therapy, and the physical and occupational therapists there made the difference for him, pushing him forward to healing and wholeness. Outpatient liaison Roxane Bingham, physical therapists Courtney Boyles and Ashley Harrison, physical therapy assistant Theresa Cambre, and occupational therapist Allison Cutrer, were critical to Devin in overcoming the odds and taking those first steps and the many steps he has taken since.

“Mostly the recovery has been up and down, but they got me through a lot,” Devin says. “They helped me with everything, with my emotional state. I just love those people so much. They worked so hard on me to get me where I’m at right now, and I just feel like I owe them my life.”

Throughout the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Devin was able to continue his therapy with only minor modifications. He was officially discharged in August, more than a year after the injury happened and after about a year of outpatient therapy.

Now his recovery continues from home. “Right now I’m focusing on getting off this walker and getting onto my cane,” he says. “Then after the cane, I’m focusing on getting off it and walking on my own.”

An athlete who went to Woodlawn High School, Devin likes basketball, baseball and football and enjoys going to the gym. He also plays his PlayStation 4 most days. Devin is still friends with the friend whose gun went off. ■

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30 Oct 2020

By Mari Walker

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