Nicholas H Nicholas Hellinghausen – Patient Story

I loved rec therapy most, said Nick. Playing games and hanging out with Burton [CSH’s facility dog] was the best part.

After slipping and falling at summer camp, 16-year-old Nicholas Hellinghausen (Nick) severely injured his left shoulder and left leg, causing him to need surgery and rehabilitation to get him back on his feet. Though, his goal to walk again would not come easily as this was his second major injury in a short amount of time. Nick was still recovering from a broken hip which happened less than one year before this fall.

“As soon as my body hit the floor, I knew something went really wrong,” said Nick. “I almost could feel the bones shatter.”

Nick’s team at camp quickly called his parents and he was transported to a nearby hospital. It was soon determined that he would need surgery on his fractured left femur as soon as possible, and they proceeded quickly. While the surgery was successful, Nick was not able to get back on his feet just yet. His care team suggested he seek a specialized rehabilitation plan and referred him to Children’s Specialized Hospital (CSH) Inpatient Facility in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

When Nick arrived at CSH, nearly the entire left side of his body was unable to function. He had just left the hospital from having surgery on his femur, and his left arm was in a sling. This was “frustrating” as Nick described, as he was not used to being dependent on others to complete everyday tasks like eating, getting dressed, bathing, and walking.

“Initially, coming to Children’s was hard for me. I was nervous and really home sick having already been in the hospital,” he shared. “I also felt very frustrated at first because I wasn’t used to having no control of my body.”

Nick was nervous upon arriving at CSH. He knew his recovery would take longer than he would like as this was a second major injury to his growing and fragile bones. He also needed to be extremely careful to not get additional injuries during recovery. However, he knew he would be in good hands at Children’s Specialized Hospital.

“I was definitely shy at first, too,” he said. “It wasn’t until a few weeks after being admitted that my therapists finally got me out of my shell to leave my room for something other than therapy.”

The Recreation (Rec) Room is a popular attraction for all kids in the New Brunswick Inpatient Facility. Here, patients are able to connect, play board and games, indulge in arts and crafts, and watch movies. Overseen by the Recreational Therapy and Child Life teams, this space is dedicated for kids to be themselves, apart from their illness or injury.

“I met so many friends in the Rec room who I still talk to today,” he shared. “This space made me realize that I wasn’t the only person going through something really difficult. In fact, I even met kids who were going through the same thing as me.”

Nick shared that this leisure and play time during his rehabilitation really aided in his recovery both mentally and physically. He added that it is what helped him most while getting through this difficult time.

Finally, after some time working with his care team at CSH, Nick was diagnosed with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as Brittle Bone Disease. For Nick, this ailment causes the collagen in his bones to be significantly weaker than others his age. It also means he would need more therapy along with infusions twice annually to strengthen his bones again.

Nicholas HellinghausenWith a treatment plan in place, Nick worked diligently with his care team to ensure he was making strides in physical, occupational, and recreational therapy. He would sometimes get frustrated when he could not complete a task, but he knew that he needed to be patient while his bones were strengthening. Hitting small goals along the way is what gave him the perseverance and “push” that he needed to keep going. He also added that the patience and support of therapists on his care team played a major role in helping him reach his goals.

“I loved rec therapy most,” said Nick. “Playing games and hanging out with Burton [CSH’s facility dog] was the best part. It really allowed me to relax and take the stress away from physical aspects of my rehabilitation. I was still working towards my goals, but having so much fun doing it.”

After three months at Children’s Specialized Hospital, Nick was strong enough to be discharged home. He was able to stand up from a seated position on his own, and he was able to walk unassisted for the first time in over 12 weeks. While his condition has improved significantly, Nick is still very cautious and can’t yet run or engage in intense activity. He receives outpatient physical therapy at CSH’s Toms River location and is optimistic about his future.

“I feel good!” he excitingly shared. Now 19 years old, Nick works part time as a game attendant on a New Jersey boardwalk.

In 2021, Nick decided to join Children’s Specialized Hospital’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC) to support other children and teens who share a similar experience as him. He said, “I really want to give back to CSH because I remember how difficult it was at first for me. I want to let others know it will be okay.” He added, “Connecting with others is what initially made me feel supported. I want to do that for someone else.”

Nick’s advice for others with similar fears is to trust the process. He recommends acknowledging that while this experience is a difficult and big change for most, connecting with other people can help make the inpatient stay feel like “normal everyday life” as he describes.