Kevin Mullen loves the rush of acceleration when he hits the throttle on his ATV or snowmobile, but in May of 2004 the thrill he so enjoyed was the last thing he remembers before the accident.
When the 29-year-old native of northern Maine regained consciousness and opened his eyes, a friend of his was kneeling beside him asking frantically if he was ok.
"I thought to myself, I can't feel my legs and I couldn't remember what happened," said Mullen.
Apparently the ATV had struck a mailbox and catapulted Mullen 40 feet, fracturing his spine, foot and injuring his liver. That night Mullen began a new journey with paraplegia that would change his body, but not his personality or his love of life.
After a week in acute care hospitals, Mullen was transferred to the Spinal Cord Injury Program at New England Rehabilitation Hospital of Portland (NERHP) to gain back as much function as possible and to prepare him for his new life. Robert Haile, MD, Mullen's attending physician noted that he "appears to be aware that this is a permanent injury and he is unlikely to recover neurological function."
Mullen's treatment team included physical, occupational and recreational therapists. Experienced rehabilitation nursing staff enabled him to overcome medical complications such as bowel and bladder dysfunctions and shoulder pain that he first experienced upon admission.
His physician and treatment team delighted in Mullen's determination, understanding of his situation and the progress he made. He became increasingly inquisitive about his care and management.
"One of the things I most appreciated from my team was that they were open and honest," said Mullen.
His inquisitions regarding the depth of his disability and future prognosis were answered truthfully by Dr. Haile. If he slacked off during his therapy, he was told of the repercussions that would hinder or delay his healing. At one point dressing was a challenge. He also wanted to attend his tenth high school reunion. His therapists told him that if he wanted to go badly enough he needed to get working on dressing himself. Kevin feels the consistent structure and care provided by his therapists are the reasons why he was discharged with the excellent functional and mobility he had.
Dr. Haile helped him understand the pathology and the findings present in his CT scan. Mullen worked diligently with physical therapy on strengthening and endurance, wheelchair mobility and standing. Mullen constantly met with his recreational therapist and read sports journals for paraplegics. He was very interested in all types of sporting activities that were available to him.
Because Kevin is physically strong and very athletic, he adapted very well to wheelchair propulsion, transfers and developing overall strength and endurance. He even teased his therapists and nursing staff at New England Rehab by practicing "wheelies" in the hallways.
In June of 2044, Kevin returned to his home with home health services that included continuing physical and occupational therapy.
Adaptation and his innate nature of innovation and competitiveness have given Kevin a life that continues to be fulfilling and independent.
"I'm fine not walking and I am not upset," Kevin explained. "I do what everyone else does; I'm just not able to walk. New England Rehab Hospital was my security blanket and gave me the motivation to keep going."
Prior to his accident, Kevin had lived alone and worked as a carpenter. Today he still lives alone, only his residence has changed to a housing unit and facility that is wheelchair accessible. His unit has been adapted to accommodate his activities of daily living and he is comfortable manipulating from room to room, cooking, entertaining, doing laundry, getting his mail and using his computer.
While Kevin has given up carpentry as a trade, he works full time at Smith & Wesson, a company that makes guns and handcuffs, located close to his home. His twin brother, Paul, also works there and picks Kevin up every morning and takes him home at the end of the work day. Kevin loves his job working in the finishing department. He files, sands and polishes gun frames and usually completes 50 frames per day.
What really gives Kevin his greatest joy? The joy of competition and athletics which has always been what Kevin is all about. While at NERHP, Kevin learned about Northeast Passage. He had the opportunity to enjoy hand cycling and fencing through one of their programs. As a participant with Maine Handicapped Skiing he was able to mono-ski. Most amazing, he still rides on his ATV and ski mobile. Kevin straps his legs together while in the vehicle so that he can still enjoy the trails he so often traveled prior to his accident.
Thanks to the support of his twin brother, Paul, who has shared in all aspects of Kevin's physical impairment and recovery, and his mom and family members, Kevin feels that his life is productive and self-sufficient; and best of all, he can still feel the rush of riding his beloved ATV and snowmobile on familiar hometown trails in northern Maine.