A Little Fall to a Big Climb

With help from her care team at Parkwood Institute, Miranda Scott was able to reach great heights – figuratively and literally – by incorporating wall climbing into her recovery.

Miranda Scott had big plans. She had just bought a house, was about to graduate from college for a second career, and was an avid rock climber, gardener and all-around exceptional athlete. It all ground to a halt when an accident in her home left her unable to walk.

"I was panicked, in pain, and my legs felt like they were floating..."

portrait of Miranda Scott outside in front of Parkwood Institute
Miranda Scott spent two months as an inpatient in the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program at Parkwood Institute, then continued her rehab as an outpatient.

While practicing aerial aerobics, a sport using a suspended hoop, Miranda slipped, falling only three feet to the floor.

“It wasn't the height; it was the angle. I fell right on my neck,” says the fit 34-year-old. She sat on the floor stunned and confused, “I was panicked, in pain, and my legs felt like they were floating – though they were flat on the floor. I realized this may be serious.”

Taken by ambulance to hospital, Miranda thought perhaps she would be prescribed pain medication and the floating feeling in her legs would subside. That was not the case. She was told she had a broken neck.

“There was no prognosis. No one was willing to guess my future. I asked if I would walk again and I couldn’t get an answer.” The accident happened well into the third wave of COVID-19, adding complexity to Miranda’s situation with restrictions on family visits.

After two weeks of acute care, she was transferred to Parkwood Institute for rehabilitation.

Her short fall had resulted in a traumatic spinal cord injury with several fractured vertebrae. She had weakness throughout her upper and lower extremity muscles, and no voluntary movement in her left leg.

Miranda Scott reaching for a ledge on an indoor rock climbing wall
With the help of the spinal cord injury rehabilitation team at Parkwood Institute, rock climbing enthusiast Miranda Scott was able to reach great heights – and return to the things she loves most.

“It was a very sad time for me. Not only did I lose my active lifestyle but, due to the pandemic, I couldn’t see my family as much as I wanted to. It was depressing.” Admitted to the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program at Parkwood Institute, Miranda had to adjust to being in a wheelchair, which was challenging for the active young woman. To transfer from bed to wheelchair, she needed a mechanical lift.

“Really all I could do myself was roll over in bed,” she says. “And even that was hard work.”

“I was brought into the hospital on a stretcher. I promised myself I would be walking out – and I did!"

Miranda told her clinicians her ultimate goal would be to return to some of the activities she enjoyed, including rock-climbing – something she fell in love with five years prior to the accident. Yet she kept herself in check, trying not to be too hopeful in case she never walked again.

physiotherapist Neal McKinnon firmly holding the ropes that belay a climber on a climbing wall
Neal McKinnon, a physiotherapist with the spinal cord injury rehabilitation team at Parkwood Institute, helps Miranda Scott take part in wall climbing as part of her recovery from a traumatic spinal cord injury.

Accepting whatever her body was willing to give her, she would try everything her physiotherapist, Neal McKinnon, proposed as part of her treatment.

“There was no point in NOT trying it,” Miranda recalls. “Eventually I started to see little gains.”

"It reminded me why I got into this profession."

“A big part of Miranda’s success was related to her motivation and work ethic,” remembers Neal. “During our initial assessment, she outlined that her goal was to be able to walk out the front door of the hospital when she was discharged. She was always motivated to push herself during therapy and try new activities.”

Miranda spent two months at Parkwood Institute as an inpatient. And looking back remembers the moment she could finally move her left leg on her own. Slowly and with tenacity Miranda worked toward more and more movement.

It was fortuitous that early on in her recovery Miranda and Neal discovered they were both die-hard rock climbers. As a matter of fact, Neal was a belay-certified rock climber, and member at a local indoor climbing gym called Junction Climbing Centre.

wide view of a high climbing wall with Miranda nearly at the top of the wall
After a traumatic spinal cord injury, Miranda Scott climbed her way back – figuratively and literally. Wall climbing became part of her rehabilitation.

Due to COVID-19 the gym was closed to the public, but at that time the Ontario government allowed people with a disability to access gyms for the purpose of physiotherapy. Neal reached out to the owner of the gym and was able to work out a plan to get Miranda climbing. After spending a couple of sessions assessing her safety, Neal provided education and recommendations to the gym staff who continued to assist Miranda with her climbing therapy.

"When I was able to get back into the climbing gym for the first time, I felt complete joy."

“Climbing is my passion,” says Miranda. “My life changed when I started climbing and it was something I always looked forward to. It was never a task or errand. When I was able to get back into the climbing gym for the first time, I felt complete joy.”

Upon discharge from Parkwood Institute, she achieved her main goal. “I was brought into the hospital on a stretcher. I promised myself I would be walking out – and I did! My dad was waiting for me outside and I walked toward him and gave him a big hug. I was crying, my dad was crying. It was such a special moment.”

It was equally emotional for Neal. “It reminded me why I got into this profession.”

Miranda Scott high up on a climbing wall with Neal McKinnon on the ground below holding the belaying ropes

Miranda continues to climb two to three times each week and is also an outpatient with the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program. Her left leg, she admits, has a way to go.

“It’s difficult to not compare myself to where I was before the accident. I can do pretty much everything I did before, but now it’s much more work. I use the analogy of a teapot. If you drop it and it breaks you can glue it back together and it still looks like a teapot – but it won’t work the same. I sometimes struggle with not being the same."

Still laser-focused on her recovery, Miranda continues to work through neuropathic pain and has set new goals – to complete a co-op position for school, graduate, build-up to taking her dog on two walks a day, and get back to hiking, more climbing and the other hobbies she once enjoyed. A task her physiotherapist thinks she is well equipped for. “Miranda would not have her independence taken away,” chuckles Neal. “She is very tough and determined. She sets her mind on an accomplishment – and then does it.”

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