Rehabilitation and Renewal: Covenant Health Therapy Center Helps Patient Rebuild Life After Car Crash

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Chris Dial concentrates as he uses his left hand to place tiny pegs into holes on a wooden board. This simple task requires dexterity and fine motor skills, and would have been impossible when he first began therapy at Covenant Health Therapy Center – West Knoxville.

“We’ve always focused on improving skills that directly translate into his daily life and personal goals,” says Mikayla Alissandrello, an occupational therapist at the center. “What began as just working on touching his fingertips together progressed to being able to type again, which was a big goal for him.”

“I can’t believe how patient she is,” Dial says. “All the therapists here are very patient. It’s been an uphill climb.”

Chris pictured in front with therapy team behind him.
“It’s definitely made a huge difference,” says Chris Dial, pictured with (l to r) Suzanne Moskal, PT; Jenna Whipple, SLT and Mikayla Alissandrello, OT, at Covenant Health Therapy Center – West Knoxville.

A Life-Altering Accident

Dial’s road to recovery began after severe injuries from a car crash turned his life upside down. The last thing he remembers is driving toward a McDonald’s for something to eat. His next memory is waking up battered and confused in a hospital room.

“I didn’t even know what to ask,” Dial recalls. “It took a couple of days for me to actually ask why I was there.”

Piecing together his story from what others have told him, Dial learned that his leg was trapped under the car for about an hour and a half. He was told that his neck was broken, and a portion of his skull was so shattered it had to be pieced together like a puzzle.

Dial suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), brain bleeding, multiple skull and neck fractures, internal injuries and severe burns. A strong man accustomed to hard work and independence, he was now totally reliant on others, a reality that was hard to accept.

After weeks in a hospital, Dial was transferred to an intensive rehabilitation facility in Atlanta. Although his condition had improved by the time he was discharged, he still had a long way to go.

Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy

That’s when the work began at Covenant Health Therapy Center – West Knoxville, where therapists work together closely to help patients achieve their goals. Physical therapy focuses on restoring mobility and movement, while occupational therapy helps patients return to meaningful daily activities.

Occupational therapist in black scrubs works with patient.
Mikayla Alissandrello, OT, oversees occupational therapy with Chris Dial at Covenant Health Therapy Center – West Knoxville. Dial has also benefited from physical therapy and speech therapy.

“These activities can range from basic self-care to more complex tasks like school, work or driving,” Alissandrello explains. “Occupational therapy takes a holistic approach, focusing on the patient’s physical aspects while also considering their social, cognitive and emotional well-being. This helps them overcome barriers so they can fully engage in their lives.”

Rehabilitation Progress Through Persistence

Suzanne Moskal, Dial’s primary physical therapist, says her patient was in a lot of pain during his first sessions, but he never complained. “Each week we increased the stretching and strengthening exercises, and he rose to the challenge each time,” Moskal says. “He always had the best attitude and work ethic.”

Speech therapy helped Dial reconnect his mind with his words. “Following Chris’s accident and brain injury, he had difficulty with cognitive functions such as memory and attention,” says Jenna Whipple, his speech therapist. “This made it difficult to concentrate, remember new information or think through problems – as Chris would say, ‘hard to think about what to say.’”

Whipple used cognitive therapy to help Dial return to his pre-accident level of thinking and speaking. “He was able to improve in all areas, return to work, and he was recently cleared for driving by his doctors. He also plans to return to school,” Whipple says.

A New Perspective on the Future

“It’s definitely made a huge difference,” Dial acknowledges. “I couldn’t do a lot of the things they started me out doing, and now I can.”

Dropping out of school to recover from his injuries has given him time to refocus. “I never really did know what I was going to do in school or after school,” Dial says, “but I think I’ve figured it out. I’m pretty sure I want to be a physical therapist or maybe an occupational therapist.”

Whatever the future holds for Dial, he has proven he has the drive to achieve his goals.

“It’s quite miraculous that he has regained so much and is now walking with no limitations,” Moskal says. “I think the sky is the limit for him!”

For now, Dial is looking at the more immediate future. Asked where he wants to go when he gets behind the wheel, his answer is spontaneous.

“McDonald’s,” Dial says with a grin, recalling the ill-fated trip the night of his car crash. “Because I never got there.”

Helping patients “get there”— achieving independence, reaching goals, and enjoying a restored quality of life—is what Covenant Health Therapy Center – West Knoxville is all about. If you’re experiencing pain that keeps you from your daily activities, call 865-531-5710 to schedule an assessment. A referral isn’t necessary, and stepping into the therapy center might be just what you need to move forward. 

Covenant Health Therapy Centers are located throughout Knoxville and other counties served by Covenant Health. To learn more about locations and services, visit the Covenant Health Therapy Centers web page.

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Covenant Health

Headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, Covenant Health is a community-owned, healthcare enterprise committed to providing the right care at the right time and place. Covenant Health is the area’s largest employer and has more than 11,000 compassionate caregivers, expert clinicians, and dedicated employees and volunteers.

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