• What happened?
  • What were the nature of Lyena’s injuries?
  • Can Lyena move?
  • Can Lyena feel?
  • Are there other problems associated with Lyena’s injury?
  • Is Lyena dependant on others?
  • What did they do at the hospital?
  • What is “acute rehabilitation?”
  • Does rehab make you walk again?
  • Is there a cure for paralysis caused by spinal cord injury?
  • What is Lyena’s prognosis?
  • Won’t Lyena recover if she just keeps working at it?
  • What is Lyena doing to recover?
  • Have there been improvements in Lyena’s physical condition?
  • Is Lyena still performing?
  • Is “The Road to Recovery” available on video?
  • How can I help?
  • Can I make a financial contribution?

    What happened?
    On Oct. 4, 2002, Lyena climbed a tree in Malibu's Charmlee Park with her boyfriend, Dean. She was standing still on two thick branches when a smaller branch, on which her hand was resting, broke. Lyena fell backwards out of the tree, about 15 feet.
    More detail.

    What were the nature of Lyena’s injuries?

    Lyena fractured the 11th thoracic vertebra (T11) which is located just above the middle of her spine. The fracturing did not impact her spinal cord though and, alone, might not have caused paralysis. But unfortunately, Lyena also dislocated her spine at T10/T11. The dislocation crushed Lyena’s spinal cord, damaging or killing many of her nerves. As a result, Lyena is completely paralyzed from the waist down.

    Lyena also broke a rib when she fell which immediately punched a hole in her right lung and collapsed it. Although it made it difficult to breathe for awhile, thankfully, the hole in the lung was a temporary problem. It has healed completely (along with the rib, as far as we know) and Lyena currently has no symptoms or problems related to it.

    Other than that, Lyena was, miraculously, uninjured. She didn’t break any other bones; she sustained no other internal injuries and she did not hurt her head in any way. She never lost consciousness and there wasn’t a mark on her body, not even a bruise.

    Can Lyena move?
    Since her accident, Lyena has been unable to voluntarily move any part of her lower body (see “Have there been improvements in Lyena’s physical condition” below for an exciting exception). By herself, she can’t wiggle her toes, bend her knees, stand, kneel, crouch or walk. Because she can’t control her lower stomach or back muscles, her balance when seated has also been affected. Without the support of a chair or a well-placed hand, Lyena has difficulty, for instance, taking off a sweater or brushing her hair.

    Can Lyena feel?
    Lyena has no sensation below her waist. It’s hard to imagine what that means exactly but, in Lyena’s case, it means she can’t feel someone touching her; she doesn’t know where her legs are at any given moment; she can’t sense temperature, neither scalding nor freezing, nor anything in between, and she can’t feel pain. Cuts, scrapes, bruises, sprains, and breaks have to be seen, rather than felt.

    Lyena also has no sexual sensation. She can sense neither touch nor pressure.

    Are there other problems associated with Lyena’s injury?
    Yes. The lack of feeling and control below her waist means that Lyena can’t go to the bathroom by herself. Both her bladder and bowel must be routinely emptied by medical procedures Lyena performs at home.

    She is susceptible to recurrent infections, particularly urinary tract infections, and is at high risk for other health problems such as severe skin breakdown, cardiovascular disease and the early onset of osteoporosis.

    Is Lyena dependant on others?
    No. Lyena is fully independent in her wheelchair. She takes care of all her personal needs, navigates her physical environment, drives herself to therapies and doctor’s appointments (using a modified van), runs her own errands, and lives a full and busy life.

    What did they do at the hospital?
    When Lyena arrived at UCLA Medical Center, she was injected with steroids in an effort to limit the swelling in her spinal column. Swelling can cause additional, sometimes very severe, damage after the initial impact. She went through a series of tests to determine the extent of her injuries (x-rays, CT scan, MRI) and then into surgery. In surgery, her dislocated spine was realigned, which finally relieved the pressure on her spinal cord. Bone fragments from shattered portions of T11 were cleared out and shavings of pelvic bone were taken to construct a graft fusing T9 (two vertebrae above the injury) to L1 (two vertebrae below the injury). Lyena’s spine was further stabilized by titanium rods screwed into T9, T10, T12 and L1.

    As for the broken rib and punctured lung, a tube was inserted through the skin of Lyena’s chest into her chest cavity to drain the fluid that was putting pressure on her lung. For several days, the tube pumped fluid while the hole slowly healed. When there was no more fluid, the tube was removed. The rib was left to heal by itself.

    Lyena stayed at UCLA for 10 days recovering from surgery and then flew to Craig Hospital in Denver, CO for inpatient, acute rehabilitation.

    What is “acute rehabilitation?”
    Acute rehabilitation is the training you receive, immediately after being hurt, in the skills needed to manage paralysis. In Lyena’s case, rehab included learning how to turn herself in bed, dress herself, and transfer from a wheelchair to everything else and back again. She learned wheelchair skills (i.e. how to handle hills, curbs, doors), how to cook and shop for groceries from a wheelchair, and how to drive with hand controls. Lyena learned about various medical issues that can come up following a spinal cord injury, and how to cope with them. She learned how to manage her bladder and bowel and how to guard against skin breakdown, a common complication after spinal cord injury. She was exposed to various forms of wheelchair recreation and sampled several wheelchair models, as well as other equipment designed to make her home more accessible.

    Does rehab make you walk again?
    No. The purpose of rehabilitation is to give you the skills and practice to manage paralysis, not cure it. Except to the degree that proper management helps maintain overall good health, rehabilitation does not address recovery from spinal cord injury.

    Is there a cure for paralysis caused by spinal cord injury?
    Not yet. Currently, there are no reliable methods that adequately reverse or repair the damage caused by spinal cord injury. However, there are people who have recovered without a “cure” and there are various treatment protocols, from the alternative to the traditional, that are being used and tested with limited success. Spinal cord injury research has also increased in recent years, thanks, in part, to the celebrity and influence of Christopher Reeve. And this research has been promising enough to make searching for a cure a viable, research goal. We may not have all the answers today but there’s still plenty of reason for hope.

    What is Lyena’s prognosis?
    It depends who you ask. Generally speaking, Lyena is not expected to walk again. Her injury is classified “complete” which is the most severe classification for a spinal cord injury. Statistically speaking, it is far less likely that Lyena will experience a return of function than it is for someone whose injury is classified “incomplete.” But the central nervous system is very complex and most doctors acknowledge that too little is known to be sure of the future. Lyena recognizes the severity of her injury but doesn’t believe that her situation is hopeless. On the contrary, Lyena lives close to her faith in limitless possibilities and in her body’s ability to right itself, one way or another.

    Won’t Lyena recover if she just keeps working at it?
    Not necessarily. Spinal cord injuries aren’t like other kinds of injuries. If, for instance, Lyena had merely broken her back without damaging her cord, she may have faced a long and painful rehabilitation, but over time, the bones would heal, the muscles would get stronger and with concerted effort, she would recover. But the cells in the central nervous system are different. They don’t always heal. And there are many normal, physiological factors present in the spinal column that actually impede the healing process. The majority of people with spinal cord injuries never recover. Many people with “incomplete” injuries and a few people with “complete” injuries experience some return of feeling or movement, but full recovery is very rare. Regardless, Lyena believes that a full recovery is possible and has dedicated herself to this effort.

    What is Lyena doing to recover?

    Lyena pursues an evolving combination of traditional and alternative therapies. Twice a week, she drives herself to Project Walk, a spinal cord recovery facility in Carlsbad, CA. She receives acupuncture and massage regularly, and uses homeopathy, Chinese herbs and other nutritional supplements to support her body’s healing. A large portion of her time is devoted to different meditation practices where creative visualization, sound, breath, and movement assist the healing process. Lyena also uses some of the equipment advocated by the research team at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. The St. Louis protocol has been credited for Christopher Reeve’s recent progress. And in between therapies and meditations, Lyena explores promising additions to her regimen and keeps abreast of the latest research.

    Have there been improvements in Lyena’s physical condition?
    Yes. Since her release from the hospital, Lyena has experienced several changes in her lower body. Most excitingly, Lyena has become able to crawl a short distance by herself. Without the help of trainers, Lyena can bring herself onto her hands and knees and, while maintaining this position, bring each knee forward, one at a time. She can’t feel her body moving or sense when her knee is on the ground, so she has to watch her legs as she goes. But she can, with effort, cover 10 – 12 ft. on a good day. She has also achieved much greater balance in her torso and a small range of movement between her waist and pelvis. She has become able to kneel with only minimal assistance and enjoys a greater range of mobility while seated in her wheelchair.

    Fewer gains have been made in terms of her ability to feel but on one occasion, Lyena was briefly able to sense pressure in her right leg. It was the first time in nearly a year that she felt the touch of another human being on her lower body. We are hopeful that, soon, Lyena will be able to feel such touch all the time.

    Is Lyena still performing?

    Yes. Lyena’s passion for presenting stirring live performances in dance, theater and performance art has not been defeated. Her creative life is more important to her than ever and several projects are in the works. In May 2003, Lyena offered “The Road to Recovery,” a theatrical sharing of her stories and writings from the first seven months of her recovery effort. It was a powerful afternoon, full of humor, inspiration, triumph and hope. She is currently writing a second show which uses mixed media (such as recorded text, projection, dance and monologue) to juxtapose the harsh, scientific reality of spinal cord injury with the beauty and triumph of the human spirit. Lyena also hopes to return soon to Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble, founded by Lyena and 10 other talented theater artists several years ago.

    Is “The Road to Recovery” available on video?

    Yes. An edited version of the show is available on VHS. For purchase information, click here.

    How can I help?
    The biggest concern right now is making sure there’s enough money to support Lyena’s recovery effort. Lyena and a small group of her friends have been exploring various fundraising possibilities including live and recorded performances, publishing of Lyena’s writings, charity events and public speaking. If you have expertise in fundraising, theatrical production, public relations, media distribution, event production, or publishing, a donation of your time and expertise could help ensure Lyena’s recovery effort continues. To offer help or for more information, please contact us.

    Can I make a financial contribution?
    Yes. Contributions of any size are greatly appreciated and are tax-deductible as allowed by law. To make a contribution, click here.

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