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  • Patient’s Remarkable Recovery Is Highlight of NEXT Opener

    NEXT Opening Ceremony Balinger

    One of the great things about remarkable physical therapy stories is that there's no exaggeration needed to make them remarkable. Take Nick Balenger, who wowed the audience at the NEXT Conference and Exposition opening event on June 8—and only partly because he claimed some of his favorite people are physical therapists.

    Balenger, now a 21-year-old intern with the Department of State in Washington, DC, recounted the story of his transformative rehabilitation after experiencing a spinal cord injury at age 17.

    "My high school baseball team had just won the state championship. I was heading into what promised to be one of the best summers of my life—vacations and baseball and friends," he began. But a diving accident during a family vacation in Hawaii that summer left him in a hospital ICU being told he would never walk again.

    "For about 3 weeks, I was in the ICU of the Maui Memorial Hospital," Balenger recalled, "unable to move anything below my neck other than my biceps. So about all I could do was punch myself in the face."

    Balenger said he felt confusion, fear, anger, and sadness over all the things he had wanted to do that appeared no longer possible—until the day he moved his leg a tiny bit. "It might have only been a fraction of an inch, but that was all I needed. I knew I would take that fraction of an inch, turn it into 2 inches, 6 inches, and before long a whole step."

    Balenger turned that fraction of an inch into walking with only 1 crutch, which "eventually I'm sure my parents will hide … somewhere, forcing me to get around without anything." Print and TV news outlets reported on his high school graduation in 2013, when he walked across the stage to receive his diploma.

    As exceptional as it was for Balenger to walk again, he said he gained even more than that—he learned not to dwell on what he couldn't do or no longer had. "The way I see it," he explained, "is that having loss in your life creates a hole. However, I believe this only presents an opportunity—an opportunity to fill that hole with something or even someone that will make you happy. It's not going to feel the same or even look the same, but trust me, it's much better than tripping and falling into that hole."

    Like so many patients, Balenger credits his "amazing" physical therapists with believing in him, pushing him, and encouraging him to reach his goals. He's now a rising senior at George Mason University and has been participating in the Rehab Science Overground Locomotion Training study there under the direction of Andrew Guccione, PT, DPT, PhD, FAPTA.

    Along with Balenger on the NEXT opening event stage were 3 TED-type talks delivered by Edele Field-Fote, PT, PhD, FAPTA, on shedding fear of failure; Josh D'Angelo, PT, DPT, and Efosa Guobadia, PT, DPT, on the huge success of the PT Day of Service project; and Fred Gilbert, PT, DPT, on why and how to be involved in large and small ways. In addition, APTA President Sharon Dunn, PT, PhD, and NEXT Program Chair Gail "Cookie" Freidhoff, PT, MAT, were interviewed talk show host–style by APTA CFO Rob Batarla; and 2016 McMillan Lecturer Carole Lewis, PT, DPT, PhD, FAPTA, joined former lecturers Guccione and Marilyn Moffat, PT, DPT, PhD, FAPTA, in a lighthearted game of movement "charades" with immediate past APTA President Paul Rockar, PT, DPT, MS, and Aimee Klein, PT, DPT, DSc.

    Want more news from APTA’s 2016 NEXT Conference and Exposition? Visit APTA's webpage devoted to NEXT coverage.


    • Thank you for inviting Nick to speak at our APTA Conference and Expo in Nashville, TN. I like how he inspired us and made us feel proud to be Physical Therapists.

      Posted by Wesley on 6/10/2016 12:57 AM

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