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Vicki Santello

Gainesville, FL

I was an avid, competitive cyclist riding an average of 200 miles a week just to train for my long distance Century events and races. That all changed in September 2006 when the car hit me at 55 miles per hour during a training ride. I was lucky not to have been killed instantly.

I sustained serious injuries: my L2 vertebrate was fractured, my left femur was broken in 3 places and my right collarbone broken. I was in ICU for three days, the trauma unit for a week and placed in a rehab hospital for another three weeks. During that time I was immobilized in a body cast unable to move myself, dress myself, feed myself or toilet myself. Little did I know those restrictions would last for months and only improve gradually over years. I remained in the body cast for three months. I was wheelchair bound for over 3 months. It took 8 months for me to learn how to walk again without the assistance of a medical device. It took even longer than that before I could drive or regain basic independence such as dressing myself without a medical device.

The pain of my injuries was intense. But equally difficult was the loss of independence and privacy. The whole recovery process was frustrating. It required that I change my basic paradigm of who I was. I was no longer the successful athlete or the successful goal driven executive. I was now a very weak and dependent person relying on the kindness of others to dig out of an inestimably difficult challenge. My prior life was in ruins. Everything had to be reconstructed from the bottom up including how I lived my life, how I earned a living and how I would regain my health and hopefully the fitness I had so treasured.

Four months after my release from the rehab hospital my home care stopped. I still needed physical therapy so my doctors suggested a center that was also a well-regarded sport rehab center. Sadly, my experience continued to be frustrating. It seemed to me that they didn’t know how to deal with multi-trauma injuries. Fortunately, one of my dear friends was a physical therapist well versed in Pilates based rehab. She suggested that I try Pilates-based rehabilitation with a highly regarded local therapist, Bonnie Carr. That same week two other friends suggested the same approach with the same therapist. It seemed like the Universe was steering me clearly in that direction! I decide to give it a try.

My therapist, Bonnie Carr, was a remarkable woman with over 30 years of experience. After an initial evaluation she said it would take 12-18 months of hard work for me to regain basic functionality. She was not sure how much mobility I would recover but if I stuck to it she felt I could regain my ability to live independently. I took her words to heart and have worked diligently every day despite the pain, frustration and setbacks. Now, over 3 years later, the rewards of range of motion, lowered pain, and mobility are sweet gifts. . Given the starting point where I could not even bend down to pick something up from the floor or put on a shoe I can credit Bonnie with unending patience and tremendous vision.

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Bonnie retired in December 2008. At that time, I was strong enough to consider making the move to a Pilates studio versus a rehab center. I was fortunate in having Evolve Pilates in my community where the instructors were knowledgeable Renee Neuman, Kelli Sanders, Kim Christou and Pam Hess have spent thousands of hours with me over the past two years helping me break through scar tissues, regain range of motion, learn proper alignment and move forward in my life. I have seen incredible results. I can walk again, climb stairs, dress myself, drive, and live independently. I even bought a Reformer from Balanced Body® for home use and I love it. Between the time I spend at Evolve and the time I am on my own Reformer I put an average of 12 hours a week into my ongoing recovery effort.

Last year I’m even got back on the bike with the help of a friend. It’s very difficult for me to maintain a racing tuck due to all the hardware in my spine and hip. It’s hard to say if I’ll ever regain the level of athleticism I once treasured. Clearly, I have recovered the gift of good health which is more precious to me than any activity I can imagine.

People who know me, medical professionals and friends, tell me I am a medical miracle. I tell them they should be doing Pilates! I consider myself to an evangelist for the exercise; it has given me my quality of life back. To me it is a more than a type of exercise. It is a way of life and absolutely mandatory for effective wellness. I think I’m living proof that Pilates is unrivaled in its delivery of a framework for the body to heal itself.

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