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Fallbrook Man Who Broke Neck Learns How To Walk Again At New Rehab Hospital

77-year-old Doug Bailey practices walking up a step inside the gym at the new...

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

Above: 77-year-old Doug Bailey practices walking up a step inside the gym at the new Palomar Health Rehabilitation Institute in Escondido, July 15, 2021.

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Doug Bailey broke his neck and suffered spinal cord damage after a horrible bike accident. He is learning how to walk again with the the help of a new rehabilitation ... Read more →

Aired: July 28, 2021 | Transcript

A new rehabilitation hospital is now officially open in Escondido and its specialized equipment is aiding in the recovery process.

"I’m lucky to be alive," said 77-year-old Doug Bailey, who was transferred to the Palomar Health Rehabilitation Institute after a horrible bike accident which broke his neck and caused spinal cord damage. Before being admitted to the facility he was wheelchair-bound.

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"They taught me how to walk again actually and how to use new neural pathways," Bailey said. "Since the spinal cord is damaged, my brain thinks I can get up and go for a little jog right now but it doesn’t work that way."

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With a few hours of physical therapy a day, Bailey said he feels himself getting stronger.

"I can tell I’m improving my function," he said. "It’s coming back — not as fast as I’d like but faster than anticipated."

Bailey is also undergoing occupational therapy here.

"Putting on my clothes, bathing myself, feeding myself," he said.

Most patients stay here for just under two weeks, but Bailey has a 30-day stay — and while he can walk again, the next part of his recovering will focus on refining his motor skills.

"Like right now I don’t even think I could sign my name to a piece of paper but I think that will improve a lot," Bailey said.

The idea behind the new facility is to prepare patients for a return to normal life, without having to be transferred anywhere else. There is also a full apartment inside, where patients stay overnight just before being released back into their homes.

"What types of activities do you want to be able to tolerate when you go home and that’s sort of how we build that plan," said Natalie Germuska, CEO of the rehab institute.

The hospital is a joint venture between Palomar Health and Kindred Hospital.

"There’s definitely a need especially in the North County for this type of care," Germuska said. "It’s a separate entity from a normal acute care. So we have specialized equipment we have special trained nursing staff."

Some of that special equipment includes motion sensing technology which can be used in games that help people regain balance and function. There is also a small car inside the gym that patients can practice getting in and out of and an outside recreation area.

"Our hospital is pretty much built for that rehabilitation patient," Germuska said.

The 52-bed facility was licensed by the state in May and is only accepting Medicare patients, but that will change as operations are gradually scaled up over the next year.

"We would like to see and what we’ve seen just with our small population is 84% to 90% of our patients go home — they don’t need to go to a skilled level for further care," Germuska said.

The facility generally treats patients who suffered strokes, amputations and spinal cord damage. Bailey’s progress has been remarkable. He is hoping to be at or near 100% function soon. Right now he still has to wear a brace around his body and neck.

"I’m hoping that as my strength returns and my balance returns — that I won’t have to wear as many braces — maybe not even the neck brace I don’t know," he said.

Bailey said if you are coachable and with encouragement from staff, recovery is possible, but he is not sure what life will be like once he goes home.

"I think my bicycling days might be over because I’m my wife’s primary caregiver and I don’t want to jeopardize that anymore than I have to," he said.

The Fallbrook resident is set to go home at the end of this month.

Video by Roland Lizarondo

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Photo of Matt Hoffman

Matt Hoffman
Health Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI am a general assignment reporter for KPBS. In addition to covering the latest news and issues that are relevant to the San Diego community, I like to dig deeper to find the voices and perspectives that other media often miss.

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