Growing up in ‘Old Town’ Tomball, Texas, Justin Gordy had a passion for fishing that flourished on the waters of Lake Sam Rayburn in East Texas. Catching a fish is a rewarding feeling, but that’s not what lures Justin back to the water. The calming sensation from the water relieves him with a mental cleanse—eliminating all stress, tensions and anxieties.
On May 31, 2010, Justin was on the waters of Lake Conroe, doing what he loves most—fishing. After a long day of bass fishing in the scorching heat, the decision to take a dive in the lake changed his life forever. He unexpectedly dove into water that was shallower than he anticipated. Incapable of movement and numb of any feeling, Justin was immediately transported to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and later transitioned to inpatient rehabilitation care at TIRR Memorial Hermann.
Justin was diagnosed with an injury to the spinal cord at the C5-C6 level. The level of his spinal cord injury left him unable to walk, along with limited use of his arms and hands.
Justin’s TIRR Memorial Hermann therapy team conducted occupational and physical therapy treatments, beginning with hand activities to rebuild the loss of muscle strength. As Justin progressed in rehabilitation, his therapy team helped secure the most suitable wheelchair for his needs. To this day, Justin’s original wheelchair is stored in his home to remind him of the phenomenal care he received at TIRR Memorial Hermann.
Through two inpatient therapy phases at TIRR Memorial Hermann and outpatient therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Rehabilitation at the Kirby Glen Center, Justin developed quality relationships with his therapists, physicians and fellow patients. Justin emphasizes his gratitude to his therapy team for believing in him.
Justin said, “Without them, I wouldn’t be independent and living on my own today.”
While at TIRR Memorial Hermann, Justin adopted a new mindset—he decided to make the most of what he had. He was determined to become independent again, regain strength and live the life he calls “normal.”
Justin’s goals were being able to fish, drive, work and live independently again. And he was able to accomplish all of his goals while making necessary modifications to accommodate his wheelchair. Justin has regained his independence, including returning to his work as a Senior Certified Welding Inspector. Outside of the workspace, Justin’s passion for fishing and being by the water continues.
“I knew I’d be able to fish again, I just had to figure out how to make it happen,” said Justin.
Justin and his family did figure out how he could return to fishing. They adapted his fishing equipment, his boat and made other adjustments so that he could participate in his favorite pastime.
Justin also showed other individuals with spinal cord injuries how to fish with adaptive equipment. Because he was a resource for outdoor recreation, he became an integral part of a research project underway by TIRR Memorial Hermann physical therapists Kristi Radfar and Kelsey Delave.
“As part of a research project, we created a video that featured Justin, along with two other individuals with spinal cord injuries, explaining and demonstrating how he now goes fishing,” said Kelsey.
Kristi adds, “Justin was eager and passionate to show and teach others the joy and return to recreation that he has found following his injury. He really is a peer-expert in this area.”
With the video complete, Kelsey and Kristi’s next step is to recruit research participants. Half of the individuals will watch the video. The other half will watch the video, but that will be followed by a virtual discussion afterwards that will include Justin. They hope to learn whether the interactive component will give the participants more confidence to return to fishing. Once the research project is complete, they plan to share the video on the TIRR Memorial Hermann website as an educational resource accessible to individuals globally.
Research project aside, Justin looks forward to many more years of fishing and traveling with his wife.
“I began rehabilitation thinking I would not be able to do anything again, but that wasn’t true,” said Justin. “It’s about learning how to work through your limitations and find other ways to accomplish your goals.”
For the 33rd consecutive year, TIRR Memorial Hermann is recognized as the best rehabilitation hospital in Texas and No. 2 in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report's "Best Rehabilitation Hospitals" in America.Learn More
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