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May 14, 2005

Dear Family and Friends,

On Feb.15, 2003 Jesse Lieberman's life hit what he astoundingly refers to as "just a bump in the road". That day, Jesse fell 3 stories from his balcony while helping a neighbor one floor below who was locked out of her condo. Fortunately, Jesse survived and is still the Jesse that we all have come to love.

The spinal cord injury that resulted from his fall left Jesse a C5 tetraplegic. At that time, he was a third-year medical student at Wake Forest. Rather than discouraging and diverting him from his dreams, Jesse graduated from medical school on time. He spent two weeks in Baptist hospital, and eight weeks undergoing intensive physical and occupational therapy at the Charlotte Institute of Rehabilitation. Jesse was discharged from there on April 25, and returned to school on April 28. He used his vacation month, his research month, and his month to study for his medical board's to stay on track for graduation. Many, including his doctors and his therapist's, thought that he should take a year off. In his words, "I would rather fail trying, than not try at all."

The first couple months back were quite bumpy. Jesse was still going to therapy daily, while trying to keep up with his rotations and studying for his medical boards. The biggest obstacle of all however, was his muscle spasms. Jesse had been a bodybuilder who was six weeks away from competing in the state championships when he fell. The same muscle that saved his life and got him out of the hospital quickly was making his life quite difficult. Despite taking the maximum doses of oral medicines, he was commonly getting stuck in patients' rooms and around the hospital. Michelle, his soon wife to be, was also having a very difficult time transferring Jesse on to his shower chair and in and out of bed. On July 7, Jesse had a pump surgically placed in his abdomen that delivers medicine directly to his spinal cord. After several increases of the medicine, and Botox to his upper extremities, his spasticity is finally under control.

Jesse could not have achieved his success in the first year after his injury alone. His number one supporter and caretaker has been Michelle. Her background as an occupational therapist was key in making the transition home as smooth as possible. Without her, he probably would not have been able to return to school right away. She was also there to pick him up in more ways than just physically because even as positive as Jesse was that first year, he still had some sad times.

A little more than a month after Jesse returned home, his friends and family organized a golf tournament to help raise money for him. It was a huge success! The golf tournament paid for the handicapped van, the help that him and Michelle needed at home, and his other adaptive devices! The van enabled Jesse to get to and from school, as well as giving him and Michelle the ability to get out and go places together.

Jesse also had help at school. When Jesse began his tougher, inpatient months of his fourth year, the medical school provided an assistant to help him with his daily tasks. During his emergency department month, his classmates volunteered to do the same.

The highlight of his new life came in May of 2004, with graduation on May 17 and his wedding on May 22. This was a date Jesse and Michelle had set before his accident. It was a beautiful ceremony that had most in tears (read more about graduation and the wedding).

Jesse had originally planned to go into anesthesia/critical care medicine. After his injury, he quickly decided that physical medicine and rehabilitation (read more under "What specialty is Jesse going into") was a perfect fit for him. Most residency programs for this specialty require that you do a separate internship. Because Jesse was the first C5 tetraplegic to graduate from medical school, Jesse had a very difficult time finding a program that would accept him. Finally, East Carolina University's Internal Medicine program accepted him (see the July 2004 journal entry for the full story). As part of the deal, Jesse agreed to provide an assistant to be with him before 7 a.m., when he was on call, and on the weekends.

In order to pay for this, his friends and family once again organized a golf tournament. Jesse had also set a goal to raise $25,000 for spinal cord research and associated charities. The golf tournament was a success, but it did fall short of this goal. Still, Jesse was able to donate $10,000!

Jesse's intern year is almost over and it has gone extremely well (see internship journal to read more). He was featured on the Today show twice during the year. Jesse hopes his national attention will make things easier for people with disabilities in the future. He is now headed back to Charlotte to do the physical medicine and rehabilitation part of his residency. Him and his family plan to have another golf tournament this year. Fortunately for him, all of his needs at work should be met through the VA's vocational rehab program. This means that all of the money raised will go towards research and other spinal cord associated charities.

The Lieberman Family