Adrian L True Grit Member Shares His Inspiring Spinal Cord Injury Story

When reflecting back on his time in the Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Program, Adrian said, “I had fun the entire time.”

On February 12, 2015, seventeen-year-old Adrian Lanza was climbing a tree in front of his home, when his world drastically changed. He fell almost 30 feet, severely breaking his back. Adrian was rushed to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick where they performed back surgery. After ten days in the hospital, he was transferred to Children’s Specialized Hospital’s (CSH) Inpatient Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Program. At CSH, he participated in extensive and immersive inpatient rehabilitation for five months.

During his time at CSH, Adrian looked forward to his daily therapy sessions. He highlighted how he loved getting the chance to know the therapists, nurses, and doctors and was excited to spend time with them each day. One day during therapy, Adrian was learning how to navigate his wheelchair and went outside to conquer wheeling up a hill. “A big milestone during that time for me was being able to roll up that hill outside the hospital,” noted Adrian. CSH’s Rehabilitation Technology Department helped him transition into various wheelchairs with less support as he progressed. This made Adrian increasingly hopeful about his new adaptive lifestyle.

Adrian Lanza in basketball gymWhen Adrian realized the severity of his injury, he knew he would be okay. He used his positive mindset to thrive in inpatient therapy. In the beginning, he had high hopes for what he would accomplish, and by the end of the five months, although he didn’t accomplish all of those hopes, he was satisfied with the results. When reflecting back on his time in the Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Program, Adrian said, “I had fun the entire time.”

Kassandra Boyd, OTD, OTR/L was one of Adrian’s occupational therapists over nine years ago. She shares her fondest memories of her time working with Adrian.

“When I was one of Adrian’s occupational therapists, I asked if he wanted to try and play his guitar again. He told me he wished he could, but he wanted to be able to sit up and hold his guitar out of his wheelchair and didn’t believe he could. With some encouragement, he tried. He transferred out of his chair in the middle of the gym, found his balance, and started playing and singing the song “Hallelujah.” I don’t think there was anyone in the gym who wasn’t crying happy tears.”

Now, nine years later, Adrian shares that he took the skills taught by his CSH therapists into his everyday life. Adrian comments, “I feel that years later, it’s now become more relevant, especially when I needed to improve moving into a new setting…” For example, Adrian noted how the stairs can be an intimidating task for someone who uses a wheelchair, but he recently decided this was a task he can take on. He uses the skills learned in inpatient rehab to start navigating his way up and down the steps with and without assistance.

Adrian Lanza working on his golf swingCelebrating Big Wins

Since Adrian was almost 18 years old when his accident happened, he needed to learn how to navigate his new lifestyle as an adult. For other young adults who are facing a similar challenge, Adrian states, “Work on caring less about what other people think. You’ll be less self-conscious which allows you to do more.” Staying positive and motivated is essential with a spinal cord injury. Adrian stays motivated through challenges by not biting off more than he can chew. He doesn’t like celebrating small steps, rather big wins. This leaves him feeling refreshed.

Adrian is currently working on his physical fitness with his older brother. With fitness gear at home, he uses dumbbells, rings, and elastic bands, focusing on core strength.

How Athletics Inspires Adrian

Children’s Specialized Hospital recently launched the True Grit Spinal Cord Program to help teens and their families move forward in their personal journey of growth. The program provides healing, hope, and inspiration to adolescents and young adults with spinal cord injuries. Adrian joined the program to connect with others in the same situation, gain resources, and participate in the various activities. He engaged in adaptive basketball, where he found the love of playing sports again, as he played soccer in high school. Adrian had forgotten what it felt like to physically play and work with a team, since he had only played sports in video games since his injury. His instincts of athletics kicked in, and while they hadn’t been used in a while, he remembered how enjoyable sports are, and that wheelchair sports are fun, too.

Adrian Lanza in a cowboy hat“Seeing someone with a spinal cord injury who had fought to regain their independence, and then find the courage to get back to what they love to do is the feeling that True Grit was built on. Having Adrian come back to be a part of True Grit has already impacted the teens in our program. He leads by example, being the first willing to try something new. He is also kind and approachable and others are comfortable seeking his guidance,” highlighted Kassandra.

“He’s able to provide mentorship about adapted driving, for example, through a lived experience that is more meaningful than if I were to provide education. It’s been such a privilege to see Adrian who trusted me to help find his courage all those years ago now be the one who others are looking to when they need some extra strength.”

Adrian found True Grit to be a supportive group and helpful for other young adults’ post-rehab. He felt that he wasn’t alone in navigating real-life challenges thanks to the therapists.

Adrian noted that the program, “helps you get in touch with people who understand your situation. Just keep working at it. You might not achieve what you want or what you thought you could but it’s important to try to achieve the most you can and focus on your own progress.”

Help for Spinal Cord Conditions

Conditions treated at the Inpatient Spinal Cord Program at Children’s Specialized Hospital include:

  • Traumatic spinal cord injuries
  • Cervical spinal cord injuries
  • Cervical-level injuries with ventilator management and weaning
  • Spinal tumors
  • Lower-level spinal cord injuries
  • Spina bifida
  • Transverse myelitis
  • Nerve damage
  • Spinal cord stroke
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Scoliosis
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome

Learn more about the True Grit program and CSH's Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Program.