Dedication pays off in spinal injury recovery

SIX NATIONS – There are many inspiring stories within the families of Six Nations; familial connections that can only belong to the Onkwehon:we.

One of these stories belongs to Rodney Hill.

Rodney Hill holds his granddaughter Aleena Skye’s written speech about him; the speech helps motivate him during tough times. “When I get stuck and have my depression times, I read what Aleena wrote for me and that’s such an inspiration for me. Here, she was inspiring me to fight and I was inspiring her to fight, it goes both ways.” Photo by Chezney Martin

Hill underwent surgery in 2014 to fix an injury related to a degenerative spinal compression (DSC). This left him unable to use his limbs and body and required rehabilitation and physiotherapy. But on top of the physical pain and rehab, he also found that he needed familial support. For this, both of his daughters stepped up to the plate to offer as much as they could.

“I had just had the twins,” said Hill’s daughter, Ashley Cooke. “When he came out of surgery he was really mad and like ‘I shouldn’t have did this.’”

“It was really, really hard,” she said. “Spiritually, mentally and physically it was hard. I know Amber felt it even more because she knew that I couldn’t be there as much as I wanted to.”

As Cooke was dealing with being a new mother to twins, her sister Amber Skye made sure that she could fill in the gaps along with having a family of her own.

“And I think it was really hard on the kids,” said Skye. “Especially Aleena because she was so close to him and then just to see him like that was really hard on them.”

“When we would leave they would cry because they didn’t want to leave him, they wanted to take him home,” said Skye. “He couldn’t feed himself or take care of himself and had to just wait until the nurses were available.”

Many times in situations like this, recovery takes a long time because the process can bring about issues like depression and self-isolation. Skye explained that it was like a balancing act of being busy with the kids, and trying to be there for Hill as he too went through depression. The two daughters explained that other family members including Hill’s brothers and sisters would also take time to visit him, even if it was just to give him a ride in the car to help him get out of the house.

“I didn’t even think that I would have the chance to get better and that’s why I was depressed,” said Hill. “But these two [Ashley and Amber] were my inspiration, and then my grandkids, they were my fight.”

“I didn’t want my grandkids to see some scraggly, old grandpa that gave up, because that would be so depressing. I at least wanted to show them that their grandpa had an injury, but he’s a fighter,” he said. “And I’m glad that I was a pretty good dad to these girls, because when I needed them they were there for me.”

Throughout the course of his three-year recovery, Hill went from not being able to use his hands or body, to becoming a “gym rat”. He now visits the gym three to four times a week and has become an inspiration to those around him just as his family inspired him to fight to recover.

“If you sit within your four walls you’re gonna fade away,” said Hill. “Rehab started my fight and they really got me going. Then I got home and I went through depression at home and I just hid in the house. Then I thought, ‘man there’s Pro-Fit right around the corner, I’m gonna go to that.’”

“I never thought I’d be a gym rat, but I am now,” he said.

Pro-Fit Health Centre Manager Jason R. Hill said that Hill is definitely “remarkable and an inspiration to all of us here, including myself.”

“If he wanted to do something, I’d believe in Rod 100 per cent that he could do it,” said Jason.

“In the beginning, I would say that Rod needed a cheerleader, like someone on his team to remind him of what’s possible,” he said. “And now it’s kind of the opposite. [Rod] cheers me up about realizing what’s possible because it’s not always easy to see the forest in the trees. That’s a big thing because sometimes I feel frustrated if one of my patients or clients isn’t doing too well and Rod is a constant reminder of what dedication is a possibility for. And there are some things that he was lucky with, but in that sense, I would say that most people would be lucky to have even an ounce of his dedication and progress.”

Jason explained that Hill’s story is also shared with newcomers to the gym.

“He means a lot as an inspiration to just us as health care professionals, but he also means a lot to people who go and talk to him,” he said. “When we give people that three-year picture people are just surprised and go up and shake his hand, and really want to know about what he’s done and be closer to that kind of success.”

From dealing with indifferent nurses and a depressing hospital environment, Hill is now back to being home and with his family.

“Sometimes I really don’t know how I did it, or how I’m doing it,” said Hill. “I can say all of these things but what I think it really came down to was love — when you got love from your family like this. Because if I didn’t have these girls and these grandkids I probably would have given up, or turned to drugs or something.”

With the help of health care professionals, his family and his own dedication, Hill now hopes to be there for his family as much as he can. He also hopes that his story will help inspire others into being proactive in their recovery, and motivate them to relearn how to love themselves.

“I’m doing something right and I’m going to keep doing it,” he said.

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