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Mike Shaw C4/5

Name: Mike Shaw  Age: 30  Date of Injury: December 16, 2013

Injury Level: C4/5, nerve damage to C3            Asia First: ASIA B Most Recent: ASIA D

Check out Mike's Website:

    I am a high functioning incomplete quadriplegic. There are some days I find it hard to believe that I’ve come as far as I have in recovery. On an average day where I’m not pushed to do higher-level motor-abilities or coordinated movements, I almost don’t feel disabled – almost.

    There’s no doubt that I have a disability and am reminded of it regularly. I live with pain everyday; fortunately not as much nerve pain as orthopedic pain. My Spinal Cord injury was deemed a “central cord injury” meaning that my arms and hands were in fact worse off than my legs. When I regained function in my body, my legs were much stronger compared to my arms and hands. This is still true but my arms have come back to a level of strength close to where I was in my previous life before quadriplegia. Lack of sensation in my legs makes it hard to perform activities that require below average coordination. But that’s enough of the ‘what’s wrong with me’; let’s focus on what’s right…

    I am ‘upright’, a ‘walker’, riding the heel-toe express! I am independent, able to perform day-to-day tasks and even light sporting endeavors! I’m grateful for absolutely every bit of recovery I’ve been lucky enough to experience. I know all injuries are different and there’s a lot of ‘luck’ involved in healing from a SCI. It sounds strange to say there’s any ‘luck’ in having a SCI but I feel that I am one of the luckiest of the ‘unlucky’. All luck aside, there is a physical and mental component that falls outside of the ‘luck’ spectrum in terms of healing. I wouldn’t be where I am today physically or emotionally without choosing a positive attitude and to give my FULL effort into rehab. I’ve put in thousands of hours to my rehabilitation and I hope that by sharing my story it helps other incomplete quads or para’s to find the motivation to go for that extra set or the extra repetition of an exercise, to follow your dreams, to rebuild your life, and to continually strive to be the best you can be. No one wants to live with a spinal cord injury, but it’s up to you how you want to live with a spinal cord injury.

There’s a universal right we all have; we all get to choose our attitude and effort everyday when we wake up.
— Mike

Immediately Post Injury:

    Sensation: I had skin sensation on the tops of my shoulders and upper arms initially. There was burning in upper arms, forearms, and upper torso. Everywhere else on my body I felt numbness.

    Motor: Initially, i.e: Day 1, I had my Deltoid and bicep function return. I had no triceps, wrist function, hands, pectorals, core, legs, etc. Day 2, however, brought leg movement! the Larger Muscle groups began to twitch, which lead to muscle contractions. I was able to lift my knee off the bed. My quads, hamstrings, and calves were all working. My Dorsa and Planter flexion were intact. Unfortunately, I still had no toe movement or change in my arms, wrists, or hands.

Arms Progression:

     Sensation: My arms slowly gained more sensation. The line of feeling on my skin crept down my arms and torso at a similar pace. I had burning nerve pain as my body and arms regained feeling. The burning remained in my hands for months but subsided in my upper/forearms when sensation improved.

    Motor: In terms of motor ability and coordination, my arms were slow to return. Coordination and strength were very low in months following my crash. It took 3 years and countless hours in the gym for strength to return.

    Exercises: I began lifting weights as soon as I could grip a dumbbell or grip a pulley handle. I had some wrist supports initially, but I was focused on improving what little grip strength I had by holding 1-2 lbs. weights.

Now I stick to a fairly ‘normal’ upper body gym routine and my grip is strong enough to pick up large dumbbells.

Hand Progression:

    To this day, I still have numbness in my hands. My hands have great motor function/ability with deficient sensation. It makes fine motor movements and higher-level tasks requiring good dexterity more of a challenge.

    It took 3 weeks before I could use my hands for anything – on day 21 I brushed my teeth with a large foam grip aid on my toothbrush! Huge win in terms of independence. I was so happy I cried. Progress from that point was slow but steady. I learned to eat using utensils with grip-aids, I learned to tie my shoes, I learned to button up my jeans, etc.

Currently, I take care of all of my routines and only rarely have to ask for help doing up buttons on my shirt or extremely finicky tasks.

Exercises: Strategy: Try to do everything yourself!

    I literally tried doing everything on my own and would only ask for help if I absolutely could not succeed.

    I did hand therapy at GF Strong (Rehab Hospital) as an in-patient a few times per week. It really helped but the best training started after I left the hospital when I was forced to do more for myself on a daily basis without nurse support: Zip Lock bags, buttons, zippers, toe/nail clippers, typing, food prep, carrying items, chop sticks, eating berries/grapes/skittles/chips (but not too many chips… a minute on the lips, a life on the hips ;)

Trunk/Core Progression:

    I started seeing my core muscles engage in the weeks following my accident. I couldn’t feel the movement but with focused determination, I got my core firing. When you learn to reset your body, it’s like a painter working with a blank canvass. You literally have to reprogram the nerve pathways. Each new connection is like a brush stroke gradually filling the canvas.


  • Sitting up right and holding the position without a back support
  • Reaching for things outside your center of gravity – advancing to playing catch from a seated position
  • Rolling over in bed and on the physio mat
  • Sit ups – or a sad excuse for sit ups… eventually these turned into real sit ups.
  • Other core exercises: planks (front and side to side), back extensions, leg lifts, medicine ball work, etc.

Leg Progression:

    On the second day after my accident I was able to start moving my legs. I had good strength in my muscles but almost no ability to coordinate my movements. Sensation and therefore proprioception in my legs was non-existent initially.

    Sensation has plateaued: I can feel pressure, pain, hot/cold, but not soft touch. My skin is mostly numb from the waist down. Sensation + Motor Ability = Coordination; so, my lack of sensation equals a lack of coordination. I struggle with higher-level mobility, agility, explosive power, etc.



  1. First steps with a walker – 6 weeks
  2. Walk out of hospital – 3 months
  3. Ride bike – 5 months
  4. First Treadmill Jog (after using an antigravity treadmill for 6 months in physio) – 10 months.
  5. First time at a regular gym (this one was more of a mental block than physical, it’s hard going back out into public because most people looking at me wouldn’t see someone who is disabled) – 11 months
  6. Back on skis – 1 year (to the day)
  7. WFL Run 10km – 1.25 years
  8. Heli-skiing – 2 years
  9. WFL Run 11km – 2.25 years
  10. Healing Agent Documentary Release (See Below) – 2.25 years
  11. TEDx Talk “Grief Happens” (See Below) – 3.25 years


  •  Strength: Squats, Lunges, Lateral Squat/Lunge, Hip Stability, Calves.
  • Mobility/Balance: Yoga, Bosu (‘both sides up’) ball work, foam block, single leg exercises, blindfold balance.
  • Agility: Ladder and Bosu work.
  • Flexibility: Yoga, Physio, STRETCH


    Bladder: Normal voiding, some sensory issues (e.g. feeling like I need to pee when I don’t, or vise versa, not feeling the need to pee until it’s a desperate situation to find a toilet.), minimal accidents.

    Bowel: Neurogenic bowel with constipation. I rarely ever get the feeling like I need to go. Sometimes when I do feel ‘loaded’ and ready to go, nothing happens unless assisted with a suppository.


    I take 10mg of PEG powder at night every second day. On the alternate days I take two sennosides, also at night before bed. If I stick to this routine, eat, drink and sleep well, I am usually able to go without a suppository. If I ever go more than 3 days without a BM, I use a suppository. I eat plenty of vegetables and take a fiber supplement.

Sensation: Sensation has been consistent for three years.



   In the early weeks/months I was adamant to kick the drugs. I’m happy to say I don’t use medications now aside from the odd bit of Tylenol or Advil.

   I started out on baclofen for spasms and gabapentin for nerve pain. I still get spasms throughout the day if I’ve been sitting or lying down for two long, but they aren’t debilitating and they don’t typically hurt. I have some tightness in my rib cage deemed to be neurological but it’s not overwhelming and I’d rather not take meds so I stopped the gabapentin too. For orthopedic pain I was given a cocktail of great drugs in the hospital, which “mellowed” out to just taking Oxycodone for pain. I was on Oxy for five months before I could kick the opiate.

   It’s tricky with medications. Most of us don’t want to live our lives taking pills all the time. I chose to get off my meds as soon as possible. You have to make the call though; sometimes it’s better to take meds if it makes life easier. For instance, I would take more pain meds in anticipation of heavy physiotherapy sessions. If you’re in pain and you can’t make it through the 1-hour physiotherapy session that’s not helping either. So, take the pain meds and push it in physio. Likewise for spasms; mine don’t cause significant problems so I don’t take baclofen. If my spasms were to cause me to fall down or pitch violently forward while standing, I would definitely take baclofen if it helped. Stretching and proper rest is enough for me to manage my spasms.

Main Recommendations:

   There’s a universal right we all have; we all get to choose our attitude and effort everyday when we wake up. It doesn’t matter where you come from or where you’re at, you get to choose attitude and effort. So, choose to be positive. Fixate on the things you’re grateful for rather than what you’ve lost. Give your full effort, in recovery, physio, life, love, whatever you do… give it your all.

Check out Mike's Website:

Check out Mike's Recovery as shown by Redbull:

According to Mike Shaw "Grief Happens," but gratitude is your foundation for healing. It's all about perspective. Your lows give you a greater ability to appreciate new highs. Trust that you will heal. You CAN live a FULL life after grief. Mike shows you how gratitude and grieving are closely linked.
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