Nurse inspires college student with fractured neck to walk and keep moving forward

Samantha Townsend at Abrazo Central Campus - CopyAfter fracturing vertebrae in her neck, Samantha Townsend worried that she wouldn’t be able to walk, feed herself, hold a pen or finish her degree at Arizona State University.

She was driving on Interstate 8 on her way to visit her parents in Yuma when she was in a roll-over car accident on Aug. 8. She was extricated from her vehicle and flown to Abrazo West Campus in Goodyear where she was treated in the Level 1 Trauma Center. She was placed on a ventilator and was unable to move her arms or legs. 

She was fitted with a halo and brace to keep her neck immobilized while it healed. She spent eight days in the Intensive Care Unit and two days in a regular room. After feeling a sensation in her left leg, she became hopeful that she would be able to walk again.

For her rehabilitation, Samantha was transferred on Aug. 18 to the Acute Rehabilitation Unit at Abrazo Central Campus in Phoenix, which is also part of the Abrazo Community Health Network.  

That’s where Samantha met nurse Charlie Carter, RN, BSN, who suffered a similar neck injury during a car accident 22 years ago.

“I told Samantha about how I was in a bad accident and I knew what she was going through. I had to wear a brace. I couldn’t move anything from the neck down.  But look at me now. I told her if you work hard, you’ll get better,’’ said C​harlie, clinical coordinator in the Acute Rehabilitation Unit.

“I understand what Samantha is going through not only physically but emotionally, too,’’ she added.

C​harlie’s encouragement inspired Samantha to keep working on her recovery. On Sept. 1, the 24-year-old took her first steps. Each day, she took more and more steps.

“Charlie is so friendly and very supportive. I know we’re going to be lifelong friends,’’ Samantha said.

Samantha spent about five weeks in the Acute Rehabilitation Unit working with occupational and physical therapists to regain her ability to feed herself, write with a pen, and get into and out of her bed and a chair. She can walk several steps using a walker.

While she had a special connection with C​harlie, Samantha made friends with many health-care professionals at both Abrazo Central Campus and Abrazo West Campus. To celebrate her progress, nurses and therapists threw her a surprise party on Sept. 18 and wore matching “Team Samantha’’ tee shirts.

When Samantha was discharged from Abrazo Central Campus on Sept. 24, C​harlie and other staff again wore Team Samantha tee shirts to show their support.
 
“I have met a bunch of great nurses at Abrazo Central Campus and Abrazo West Campus who have helped me work through my pain and my disability,’’ Samantha said.

Her parents, Ann and Nathan Townsend, said they were happy they chose Abrazo Central Campus for their daughter’s rehabilitation. Ann spent nearly seven weeks in the hospital with Samantha as she recovered.

“After researching facilities in the area, we chose the Acute Rehab Unit at Abrazo Central Campus because it is a small facility and has a community atmosphere. We wanted Samantha to get special attention. She’s our girl,’’ Ann said. “We know we made the right choice. Samantha’s progress has been remarkable.’’

Samantha says she’s determined to get back to normal as quickly as possible. She hopes to return to ASU to complete her senior year and earn a bachelor’s degree in health policy with a minor in nutrition. She is looking forward to resuming her normal activities including participating in 5K runs and hiking.

“I am excited to see that I’m making progress. I’m grateful that I survived and made it this far,’’ she said.
 
Samantha Townsend team