Dad Walks Daughters Down the Aisle, Thanks to Danbury Hospital Spine Surgeons

Western Connecticut Health Network
David Kramer, M.D.

DANBURY, Connecticut, December 4, 2018 — Kevin Shepard woke up in a streambed in the middle of the woods after falling down 35 feet from a tree. He was unable to feel or move his legs. His first thought was that he was paralyzed. His second thought was about his daughters, and how this would affect them.

That’s the moment when Mr. Shepard made the decision to stay positive. “I’ve always looked forward to the prospect of walking my daughters down the aisle at their weddings. I focused on being able to do that,” said Mr. Shepard. That goal stayed with him through his emergency spine surgery at Danbury Hospital and the intense physical therapy that followed. Sure enough, Mr. Shepard walked down the aisle arm-in-arm with each of his daughters at their weddings this past summer.

On November, 8, 2015, Mr. Shepard, a Newtown, Connecticut native, was bowhunting. He is an avid, experienced bowhunter without any history of prior injury. On that trip, Mr. Shepard lent his tree stand to a neighbor, so he used a different one. It was not until he was up on the tree stand when he realized it was unsafe. As he went to get down from the stand, the straps holding it to the tree snapped, causing him to fall.

“As I fell I thought, ‘this is going to hurt!’ The next thing I remember is waking up in a streambed. I’m not sure how long I was unconscious, but I was very cold when I woke up. Only my face was exposed from the water. Then I realized that I couldn’t feel or move my legs,” recounted Mr. Shepard. “At first I asked ‘why me?’ and felt nervous that I might not be able to walk again. Then I thought about my wife and my two daughters, and that gave me strength. I started to call out for help.”

Mr. Shepard fell in and out of consciousness for quite a while before someone found him and called 911. Brookfield Emergency Medical Services (EMS) from the Brookfield Fire Department quickly arrived on the scene. They stabilized him on a backboard, safely carried him out of the woods, and transported him to the Danbury Hospital Emergency Department (ED).

The Danbury Hospital ED staff was ready for Mr. Shepard’s arrival. Assessing him right away, they determined that Mr. Shepard had sustained a fracture and dislocation of his mid-back, which had resulted in paraplegia — he was paralyzed from the waist down. It was clear that Mr. Shepard would need emergency spine surgery to have any chance of regaining sensation and movement below his waist.

“I knew there was a good possibility I might not walk again. I also knew I was in the right place at Danbury Hospital,” said Mr. Shepard. “I told the ED staff that I was focusing on the future, and I saw myself walking each of my daughters down the aisle at their weddings. I felt calm going into surgery and just hoped for the best,” he said.

On November 9, 2015 around 2:00 AM, the ED paged David Kramer, MD, spine surgeon and Chief of Spine Surgery for Danbury Hospital. He headed to the hospital immediately once he learned about Mr. Shepard’s spinal cord injury and resulting paraplegia. Soon after, Dr. Kramer and his partner David Bomback, MD performed the surgery to repair Mr. Shepard’s spinal cord injury.

“Timing is of the essence when a patient sustains a spinal cord injury of this magnitude,” said Dr. Kramer. “To give Mr. Shepard a chance of walking again, we knew we needed to get him to surgery, decompress his spinal cord, and realign and stabilize his spinal column within eight hours from the time of his injury.”

The Danbury Hospital ED and the Operating Room (OR) are well prepared for these types of serious, emergent spinal cord injuries. Training and practice means they can quickly coordinate care between the ED physicians, radiologists, anesthesiologists, OR nurses, the spinal cord monitoring team, and the team that prepares the spinal implants. This is critical to getting the patient into surgery as quickly as possible.

“After the surgery, Dr. Kramer came to my room. The first thing he said was that he heard my story from the ED staff about my daughters. He has three daughters himself, and he could relate to my concerns. He explained that because he quickly got me into the OR, and then performed surgery to decompress and stabilize my spine, he was optimistic that I would fulfill my wish,” said Mr. Shepard.Kevin Shepard and Family, Danbury Hospital, 2015

“My goal is to help patients like Mr. Shepard maintain their quality of life and reduce the risk of potentially lifelong, devastating complications from spinal cord injuries,” said Dr. Kramer. “Dr. Bomback and I are here to treat our emergency spinal cord injury patients expeditiously, safely, and with compassion. Our patients can also rest assured knowing that the proven processes to treat emergent spinal cord injuries, and the resources available at Danbury Hospital, can help them to have the best possible outcome.”

Mr. Shepard spent just four days at Danbury Hospital recovering from the surgery before starting physical therapy. Determined to get better, he began upper body strengthening exercises while still in a wheelchair, wearing a back brace, and unable to feel or move his legs. Then, several days after the surgery, he began to move his toes.

Mr. Shepard ultimately exceeded expectations in physical therapy. He quickly mastered an exoskeleton device, which is used during rehabilitation to help spinal cord injury and stroke patients relearn how to walk. He exercised three and a half hours a day, three days a week, to build his strength. Within three months, he was able to walk independently and within eight months he was able to return to work part time.

“No one wants to experience an injury like I did. I was in a difficult situation. What made it better was the continuous love and support of my wife Patricia, my daughters and their husbands, and all of my family and friends. My colleagues at Boehringer Ingelheim, where I worked in various roles for 36 years were also very caring and understanding,” said Mr. Shepard. “I want to thank everyone for looking out for me, including Dr. Kramer. He even called the rehab center where I spent months in physical therapy to check up on me often, which the staff said was unprecedented. I really appreciated that and felt like he was always in my corner.”

On July 3, 2018, Mr. Shepard walked his 30-year-old daughter, Melissa, down the aisle at her wedding. Less than two months later, on August 25, 2018, he did the same for his 29-year-old daughter, Jessica. 

Kevin Shepard and his daughter, Melissa, July 2018 Kevin Shepard and his daughter, Melissa, July 2018  

Kevin Shepard and his daughter Melissa, July 2018

 Kevin Shepard and his daughter, Jessica, August 2018 Kevin Shepard and his daughter, Jessica, August 2018

Kevin Shepard and his daughter Jessica, August 2018

“Dr. Kramer’s confidence that I would be able to walk again was the biggest motivation for me. From the first time I met him three years ago, he reassured me. And to this day, as I continue to recover and build my strength, I hear his words of encouragement and that helps me to keep going,” said Mr. Shepard.

Mr. Shepard has adopted lifestyle modifications to help him manage his new normal after enduring the spinal cord injury. He has acupuncture and practices yoga.

“I keep myself active. I haven’t stopped, and I won’t,” said Mr. Shepard.

About Dr. Kramer and Dr. Bomback
Drs. Kramer and Bomback specialize in the management of disorders of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine. They offer expertise in correction of spinal deformities (scoliosis) and complex spinal revision surgery. They see patients at Connecticut Neck & Back Specialists located in Danbury, Connecticut and perform spine surgeries at Danbury Hospital, part of the Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN). Dr. Kramer is the Ervie and Carolyn Hawley Endowed Chair in Orthopaedic Spine Surgery at WCHN. Dr. Bomback serves as Medical Director of the Orthopedic and Neurosurgical Unit at Danbury Hospital.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Kramer or Dr. Bomback, visit their website or call: 203-744-9700

About the Danbury Hospital Joint and Spine Institute
Danbury Hospital’s Joint and Spine Institute has earned spine surgery certification from the Joint Commission. Our physicians and neurosurgeons specialize in the surgical treatment of the head, neck, and spine. They have extensive experience identifying and treating the full spectrum of spine conditions. They use the latest technology available to provide expert treatment, surgical and non-surgical, for the full range of back and spine conditions.

To learn more about orthopedic and spine care at Danbury Hospital, visit our website.

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