Although his spinal cord injury is similar to that of Christopher Reeve, Ben Trockman has shown “phenomenal” strength, courage and attitude, his father said.
Trockman, 17, of Evansville, suffered a broken neck March 19 during a motorcycle crash in Poole, Ky. He now is in the Shepherd Center, a catastrophic-care Rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta.
Trockman has been diagnosed with a “complete spinal cord injury,” which means he has no sensation or function from the neck down – with the exception of his shoulders, where he has regained some movement, said his father, Superior Court Judge Wayne Trockman. Ben Trockman was injured at the same level of the neck as was Reeve, the actor paralyzed in a 1995 horse-riding accident who became an advocate for spinal-cord injury research.
“We’ve been told by the doctors that whatever recovery Ben makes will be long in its duration, and many times full recovery isn’t achieved – whatever that full recovery is going to be – for 18 months or more,” Wayne Trockman said. Ben Trockman is alert and can speak in short phrases because he is on a Ventilator and must pause to take breaths. He can move his head but it is in a restraining device called a halo vest while the broken bones heal, Wayne Trockman said.
“One of the most amazing things that has happened through all of this is to see his attitude, because the doctors have been very forthright with him from the beginning, and he knows what he’s facing,” the elder Trockman said. “He’s had very little pity for himself. He’s been quite motivated to work as hard as he can on his recovery.”
Every day at the rehabilitation hospital, his father said, Ben Trockman receives:
# Physical Therapy, to stretch his muscles so they don’t Atrophy.
# Occupational Therapy, learning to use a telephone, computer and wheelchair, “everything that he’s going to have to know if his condition doesn’t change,” his father said. Ben is learning to operate a computer through a modified Morse code system – with puffs of air breathed into a straw to form the dots and dashes – instead of a keyboard and mouse.
# Speech therapy, learning to speak effectively with a trachea tube in his throat. Doctors hope Ben eventually will breathe independent of a ventilator. Another option is implanting a diaphragm pacemaker, similar to a heart pacemaker, to electrically stimulate muscles that inhale and exhale.
# Meetings with a counselor and with an educator. The latter is helping him catch up on his already-assigned homework from Harrison High School, where Ben is a junior. The goal is for him to return to Harrison this fall and keep up with his class, his father said.
Noting that the Shepherd Center is one of 16 “model” spinal-cord injury facilities in the nation that share research, Wayne Trockman is encouraged by medical advances in the field. “They believe there are ongoing (medical) trials in several different areas that will change his prognosis in the near future,” he said.
Wayne Trockman and his wife, Jill, have alternated spending weeklong visits with Ben at the rehab hospital in Atlanta. Their visits overlap on weekends, with younger brother Josh Trockman riding down to Atlanta with one parent and coming back to Evansville with the other, Wayne Trockman said.
The family has been heartened by many e-mails (posted on the Web site www.bentrockman.org), cards and messages from friends and supporters in the Evansville community.
Ben Trockman long has been involved in the family’s hobbies: cars and motorcycles. Last summer, Ben and Wayne Trockman went on a motorcycle ride through Colorado. The night before his motocross accident, Ben postponed a date with his girlfriend so he could work on his motorcycle with his dad.
“He was the kind of kid I was able to spend a Saturday night in the garage with, hanging out and turning wrenches and talking and having a good time. And we did a lot of that,” Wayne Trockman said. It is not yet known when the 17-year-old will be released from the rehab center.
For the past year, Ben Trockman had worked part-time at Romain Buick in Evansville as a porter – washing and cleaning cars and doing detailing work. His boss, fixed operations manger Larry Renschler, said Ben was an excellent employee and an upbeat, positive teen.
Ben is “a likable young man with a world of potential, who has his whole life ahead of him,” Renschler said. When the motorcycle accident happened, “everyone was just tore up; I know I was,” he said.
“Everyone still is very positive. They know what kind of kid Ben is and the kind of worker he is. And if anybody can overcome this, he can,” Renschler said. “I’ve got a tremendous amount of faith he can make a full recovery.”
Ben’s father is similarly optimistic. “With everything that’s been going on, he’s been so courageous, and had such a positive attitude, that I’m certain he will make significant progress,” he said.
By BRYAN CORBIN Courier & Press staff writer