A lot has changed since Sussex County Councilman Vance Phillips returned home in time for Christmas in December 2012, following his injury in a plane crash. While still not technically walking on his own, Phillips is getting around with the aid of a “rollator” — a walker with a seat upon which he can rest.
In late fall, as Phillips was conducting a solo flight of a glider-like aircraft at a private airstrip in Amherst County, Va., the craft was involved in a landing-related accident. Phillips was transported to Lynchburg General Hospital and then airlifted to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, Va., where he was treated for a spinal-cord injury to his 12th thoracic vertebra (T-12). He was later moved to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, where he stayed for more than a month.
Phillips said this week that a kidney infection he had in the latter part of January was a “blessing in disguise.” He spent three days in the hospital because of the infection and his rehabilitation was set back three to four weeks, but despite that, he said, “It may have been the best thing that could have happened.”
He explained that while he was in Philadelphia for his initial rehabilitation, he had had numerous specialists available to him under one roof including a neurologist, a gastroenterologist, a doctor for pain management, a urologist and counselors. When he got home, he said, he didn’t have those resources at his fingertips anymore — not that he thought he needed them.
“I was getting tremendous care, but there was a gaping hole I just didn’t realize,” he explained. “My primary-care physician was doing as good a job as he could, as I hadn’t been complaining. But while in the hospital, I was strongly advised to go see the specialists and make them a part of my local team.”
“The setback taught me just how important they are,” Phillips noted. He said it was just “short of a miracle” that he finally did get a team of local specialists together, as his progress started to improve.
“A lot began to happen,” he explained. “I had had a pain in my lower half and had been handling it with medication and assumed it was [from the accident]. One of the specialists referred me to another specialist, and we found I had a pinched nerve, separate from the injury. From there, I went to another specialist, who injected me with cortisone and an epidural, which had a tremendous affects and allowed me to cut my regular medication by 50 percent.”
He said that alone will help with many of his other issues, because with each of the medications comes with side effects — from digestive difficulties to change in mood.
“With so many medications and the interactions, it is very difficult to manage,” he admitted.
Currently, Phillips attends physical therapy three days each week, for 90 minutes each day. He said he is making “great strides.”
While Philips still mainly gets around with the help of the rollator, he said his ability to stand without help is improving and he has walked at home without assistance for eight to 10 steps at a time. He is still regaining feeling in his feet and toes. He said he has been told it can be a two-year process to recover from his type of spinal cord injury and, as it is just eight months out, he said he feels optimistic about his progress.
According to the Patient Education Institute Inc., the higher an injury occurs in the spinal column, the more affected the person will be. The human body has 24 moveable vertebrae (from top to bottom): seven cervical vertebrae numbered C-1 to C-7, from top to bottom; 12 thoracic, or chest, vertebrae, numbered from T-1to T-12; and five lumbar vertebrae, numbered from L-1 to L-5. Phillips’ injury was to his T-12 thoracic vertebra.
Phillips said he can’t thank the people of Sussex County enough for their handwritten prayers and words of encouragement while he in the hospital and, since then, through social media.