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Grateful Gunshot Victim: "They Didn't Give Up On Me"

MattoonxrayMatt Mattoon knows life can change in an instant. Last November,  he was the victim of a home invasion and was shot by one of the intruders. The bullet entered his cheek, traveled down his esophagus, impacted three vertebrae in his back, cracked four of his ribs, went through his lung, ricocheted off his back ribs and lodged back in his lung where the bullet remains today (seen here in the X-ray image of Matt's lung).    

Rushed to Baystate Medical Center's emergency department, the trauma team and Dr. Reginald Alouidor, trauma surgeon, worked to save Mattoon’s life. When he woke, he could only feel his right arm and wiggle his toes a bit. There was question whether he would ever walk again.  

As Mattoon’s condition improved, he was transferred to the Bronson Rehabilitation Center at Baystate Noble Hospital. “He was overwhelmed with the extent of his injuries and concerns he may have significantly limited mobility,” remembers Tracy Follansbee, RN, MSN, director of Rehabilitation Services at Baystate Noble.

Mad at the World

Looking back, Mattoon and his caregivers say his frustration and anger would often spill over.       

“I was mad at the world,” recalls Mattoon. “I was basically afraid. The amazing thing is…they didn’t give up on me.”

He credits Rosy Benitez-Feldman, MSN, RN, director of 2North and Bronson, and her team with helping him channel that anger toward his recovery.  

“It’s okay to be upset. You can hurt, be depressed, be mad, but ultimately you’ve got to look inside yourself and find that fire; that will to overcome,” says Brandy Reynolds, Level II CNA. “Matt was able to do this because I believe he was in touch with his emotions and refused to give up.”  

Road to Recovery

“When I first met Matt, he had movement in his right leg, but minimal to nothing on the left,” says Ian Braithwaite, PTA, inpatient clinical coordinator. “With that functionality, our thought process is he is probably going to be going home at a wheelchair level and we have to figure out how to get from point A (bed) to point B (wheelchair). But we also work to get the patient back on their feet doing the things they want and love to do.”  

Gradually, with therapies, the rehabilitation team members got him used to a slide board to get to a chair with one assist, then standing, transferring and walking up to 10 feet with the use of a wheeled walker.   

Mattoon recalls a pivotal moment in his recovery. He was about to be taken from his patient room to the rehab workout room, a distance of 150 feet. He was accompanied by Reuben Rappe (called RJ), his physical therapy assistant. 

“I turned to RJ and said ‘do you trust me?’” Mattoon recalls. “I know I had only walked 10 feet before, but I wanted to walk that whole length with the wheeled walker by myself.”

Rappe remembers that moment clearly, too, and the sense of achievement when Mattoon accomplished it. “The moment he made the conscious choice to motivate himself to walk down that hallway, that was the turning point that changed his outlook on all of his therapy,” says Rappe. “It was the moment when he realized he dictated his own recovery and how things where to go from there on out.”  

Walking Again

Today, less than a year after his injury, and with a lot of hard work, Mattoon is walking without the use of a cane. He has stopped using his brace, can drive, and exercises using a stationary bike.

Recently he visited the unit, walking unassisted, to say thank you to the staff. 

“To see him walk onto our unit eight months later without using a walker or anything was one of the most gratifying things to see as a therapist,” says Jill Cooney, physical therapist.  

“I feel like every day is a new day,” says Mattoon. “Without Bronson, I wouldn’t be walking. They pushed me, knowing what I could do even when I didn’t believe in myself. They never gave up on me.”