Kayleigh's story

Kayleigh Schleeper

Twenty-two year old Florida native Kayleigh Schleeper, a pharmacy student at Southern Illinois University, was on her way home from a study session at school in mid-April when her life changed in an instant. Kayleigh was hit head-on by a drunk driver resulting in multiple fractures to her right leg and a ruptured diaphragm. Upon arrival at St. Louis University Hospital, she was intubated and sedated to give her body time to recover from her initial trauma before undergoing surgery to repair the fractures in her leg. Kayleigh was in the hospital for 18 days and did not have any memory of the first ten days after the accident.

Once she was stabilized, the hospital recommended that she continue her recovery at SSM Health Rehabilitation Hospital – Richmond Heights. Initially, Kayleigh’s main goal to regain as much independence as possible, and eventually learn how to walk again so that she could return to Florida for her brother’s graduation.

Upon admission, Kayleigh was unable to bathe, dress or go to the bathroom independently as standing, even for short periods of time, caused her significant pain. Her physician-led team of physical and occupational therapists devised a care plan to help Kayleigh reach her goals and get back to life.

In occupational therapy, Kayleigh and her therapists worked on how to transfer from lying in bed to sitting in a wheelchair, and eventually being able to stand. Therapists introduced adaptive equipment to help her perform personal care more easily. They also worked extensively with Kayleigh on strengthening her arms and shoulders to help make transfers and self-care less tiring.

Physical therapists focused on helping Kayleigh learn to stand and slowly bear weight. They began by having her use the parallel bars for support while she re-learned to walk. Soon, she was able to progress to using a walker and practiced going up and down stairs. Therapists also worked with her on daily stretching and strengthening to increase her flexibility and endurance.

After two weeks of intensive rehabilitative therapy, Kayleigh had made incredible progress. By the time she was ready to be discharged in mid-May, she required only minimal assistance for most activities, including her personal care. She also had improved in her ability to sit, stand and transfer. Her strength and range of motion had increased as well.

According to Kayleigh, her mother has been one of the most important parts of her recovery, as she visited every day. The support of her friends and therapists also helped her remain positive throughout her journey. While working on her recovery, Kayleigh was also able to continue taking classes and maintained contact with her employer. Upon returning home, she looks forward to moving past the accident and focusing on school and her job.

Kayleigh reflected on her life-changing experience and time at SSM Health Rehabilitation Hospital – Richmond Heights: “I needed to keep going. Before the accident, I would have been upset and saying that this is not fair. I learned that crying doesn’t help a thing. My time at SSM Health Rehabilitation taught me to move on.”

Kayleigh will continue to work on regaining strength with outpatient therapy and looks forward to sleeping in her own bed.