Four years ago, former CBC student Drew Hessler was enjoying a getaway at the Lake of the Ozarks when he suffered a serious fall that nearly ended his life. He fractured a vertebra in his neck and was paralyzed from the chest down. Rushed to a regional hospital and then airlifted to the University of Missouri-Columbia trauma center, he had plenty of time to think about what his future would hold.
“I had two surgeries in Columbia,” Drew says. “My C5 cervical vertebra had fractured and injured my spinal cord, so they removed the broken bone and put in a spacer. Later, a CT scan showed that the spacer needed adjusting, so they had to go back in.” He was transferred to St. Louis Children’s Hospital and then to Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital to begin his long road to recovery.
Both Drew and his dad, Chuck Hessler, agree that Ranken Jordan was instrumental in his healing process. “Its purpose is to help kids return home,” Chuck says. “The staff understands that the longer a patient stays physically inactive, the more difficult recovery will be, so they worked hard to help my son get back on his feet.” Drew adds that while others weren’t sure he would regain function or walk again, the staff and doctors at Ranken Jordan never doubted his resolve. “They wanted to help me reach my goals the entire way,” he notes. “Everything they said to me was positive and encouraging.” Today, he is making good progress and can get around with the help of a walker.
Chuck says his son’s recovery also was made easier by the hospital’s focus on educating the patient’s family. “When your child suffers a serious injury, it’s very frightening to think about what’s in store,” he notes. “There are a lot of difficult questions. What if we do something wrong while taking care of him? Are we helping or hurting him? Ranken Jordan staff came to our home and made recommendations about how to set it up properly. They answered all of our questions and made sure we understood how to care for him.”
Drew says one of the most important aspects of his journey is the chance to help young people who have been in his shoes. Doctors have cleared him to begin volunteering at the hospital, and he says it will be therapeutic for him as well as others. “I think my main thing will be spending quality time with kids and helping them get through recovery,” he notes. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Former patient Kiland Sampa agrees that giving back is key to getting better. The Parkway North High School tennis star broke his neck in a diving accident and also suffered paralysis. One day when he was feeling discouraged, a Ranken Jordan volunteer inspired him to think about tennis again. The volunteer put a racket in his hand and secured it with tape, and Kiland says his outlook completely changed as he learned to swing it again from his wheelchair. “I started to think about everything I could do rather than what I couldn’t,” he says. “Ranken Jordan showed me how to be independent.” Now, he volunteers at the hospital each week, playing games, reading and going on outings with young patients. He currently is preparing for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Both young men credit the hospital’s caring staff and volunteers with helping them heal in body and spirit. “When people ask about my recovery, Ranken Jordan is the first thing I mention,” Drew says. “There is real humanity there.”
Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital in Maryland Heights helps more than 600 young people recover from illness and injury each year so they can return home. Pictured on the cover: Patients Kiland Sampa and Drew Hessler. For more information on Ranken Jordan’s services and volunteer opportunities, call 866.845.6400 or visit rankenjordan.org.
Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo by Tim Parker Photography
Pictured at top: Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital
Photo courtesy of Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital