Never underestimate the power of an individual to make a profound impact on the life of another. When Andrew Eng bid on a job for a 28-year-old man who’d been in the hospital for almost a year after a bad motorcycle accident, Eng discovered that his hands could reverse severe physical trauma.
This is one of Thumbtack’s favorite stories – a story of pro and customer shifting the course of each other’s lives over something as deceptively simple as a massage table.
Story by Andrew Eng
Massage therapy is like martial arts, dancing and meditation combined. Because I spent years as a professional dancer and martial artist, massage therapy is not only a career I enjoy, but one that’s tied to aspects of my life that are very near and dear to me.
It was on Thumbtack that I received a request from the parents of Brandon, a 28-year-old with a traumatic brain injury from a motorcycle accident. He couldn’t speak and didn’t have much control over his body. When I met him, he was in a tense, contracted position. You know when your leg falls asleep and you try to move it a little and it sends a shock through your whole body? That seemed to happen to him every time you moved part of his body.
He had been in the hospital for eight months – he was in a coma at first – and hadn’t moved his leg in all that time. His parents helped him a lot, but he needed a trained professional.
In our first session, I did a diagnostic massage. His arms had been contracted over his chest in a defensive fetal position for eight months. In just one session, I was able to help him move his arms down a couple of feet. In the next session, I was able to get both of his arms down to the hospital bed as well as straighten his right leg. When I came back, his right leg was still straight. He was now able to push it down on his own. It was pretty cool. His arms were back up again but this time it was easier to move them. It was still really hard to move his left leg, but after a couple sessions, it got a lot easier and soon he was able to push his left leg down on his own.
Now it only takes a light bit of pressure to help him get his arms to the table, where before it was very difficult. The first time we got both his arms and legs down to the table, it took two hours. The next time I went, getting him into the same position only took 20 minutes. Now it takes only a few minutes to get his body relatively straight.
Now that he can straighten out, we started going through range of motion. I used my dance experience to move his arms and legs in different ways to help stimulate his brain function. His body hadn’t moved that way in a long time, so his brain needed help remembering how.
After about seven sessions, he was relaxed enough that I could feel which parts of his body were truly tight. Where his leg hit the ground when his motorcycle went down was like a rock – tightened up all around the outside and top of his leg. It was impeding his ability to straighten the leg. At first I thought it was a tendon underneath because it was so tight. If you tried to move his left leg just a little too far, he would contract even more. But it really was just tension in the muscles.
Since the last few sessions, the outside of his leg is a lot softer. You can push your fingers into the tissue and it doesn’t resist. Now we’re working on the top of the leg around his knee – I think it will help his ability to extend his leg. There’s constant progress every time.
Now he can say “yes” to different questions when before he could only blink. He feels that it’s working and things are improving. The whole experience has really inspired me. Of course it took training and education, but it feels relatively easy to help someone in his position. It makes me wonder why everyone isn’t doing this. But his doctor would just walk in, ask a few very basic questions, and then leave after a couple minutes. It seemed like he didn’t really care. What people really need are more professionals who care and can help the problem in ways traditional medicine doesn’t. We made huge progress in just one month. People don’t have to be left in a hospital suffering.
Karen, Brandon’s mom said, “Brandon came to California seven years ago from New York. My husband and I came to California the day after his accident last July and have been here ever since. We finally have his insurance straightened out and will be taking him back to New York in June. We will definitely miss having Andrew. He and Brandon have a great bond with one another and Andrew has been very important in Brandon’s recovery. Brandon initially wasn’t expected to survive and if so he wasn’t expected to have any quality of life. We have tried to give him every avenue possible to succeed in his recovery and Andrew has been part of that.”