A year ago, Ted Loosli took his son three-wheeling for a bonding weekend.
The weekend ended when Loosli's borrowed vehicle crashed on top of a hill, fracturing the vertebrae in the middle of his neck and robbing him of the use of his arms and legs.From his sip-and-puff-powered wheelchair, he doesn't share many of the details of the accident, only because they are lodged somewhere in the black hole of his memory.
Loosli admits he was unfamiliar with the bike. "We had heard they were dangerous. I was taking it fairly easy, but not easy enough, I guess."
Now, after four months of treatment at the Western Rehabilitation Institute, Loosli is dabbling on a voice-activated computer keyboard, impatiently waiting for his home system to arrive so he can get back to work.
Ted Loosli, 46, is one of the success stories that administrators say point to the health care niche of Western. The Salt Lake Valley facility, owned by the Rehab Hospital Services Corporation, is an acute- care hospital with only one priority: medical rehabilitation.
Wes Walker, assistant administrator for Western, said the application of rehabilitation engineering has made it possible for Loosli to return to work in May equipment-trained and ready for employment - a feat unheard of before medical rehabilitation.
Western, marking its first anniversary this month, is housed in a modern peach-and-aqua-colored facility in Sandy. Its brand of patient is evident from the plethora of handicapped parking stalls outside the front door. Wide hallways and a sprawling one-story building house its extensive occupational and recreational therapy programs, among others.
Chairs are conspicuously absent from lunchroom tables, as most patients wheel up in their own. And the hospital's landscaped paths and patios outside aren't just pretty - the Outside Mobility Training Course functions as off-corridor trails for some heavy-duty maneuvering.
Doctors and therapists focus on restoring quality to life - one step beyond the majority of medical care, which is dedicated to saving lives.
"We set a new standard for rehabilitation that really hasn't existed in the Intermountain West," Walker said. "We don't cure anything here, but I think we are very successful at returning people to independent lives."
Here, emotional recovery is as important as functional ability.
"Part of the problem with getting better is: `Where are you going to go when you get better?' " Loosli said.
Walker said when Loosli was first admitted, he was depressed and angry that he no longer had the physical ability to be breadwinner for his family. Receiving computer training helped him toward that goal and has speeded his mental recovery as well.
"Ninty-nine percent of the patients here do go home independent," said Judy Bradley, Western admissions coordinator.
At Western, physicians, psychologists, social workers and therapists work together as specialized teams to shape a patient's individualized treatment plan. Rehabilitation goals are set together with the patient and his or her family.
"There isn't anything we don't know about a patient when they leave here," Bradley said.
The majority of Western's cases are patients with spinal cord or brain injuries, stroke or birth-defect victims, amputees and pediatric patients.