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Back on his feet
Hydrotherapy helps Bismarck man recover from traumatic injuries
Esley said. “We were grateful Sanford Health
was able to care for me, so we could
come home.” During his hospital stay, physical therapists
began teaching Melinda and the couple’s
three sons to care for Esley. He was immobile
and could not bear any weight on his legs, so his family learned to use a harness-type lift to move him to a wheelchair.
They also learned how to change bandages and continue with home
Jamie Crane, a Sanford Health physical therapist, works with
Esley Thorton in Sanford Health’s rehabilitation pool. The water’s
buoyancy is helping Thorton, who was injured in a car accident,
regain his ability to walk.
||Esley Thorton had allowed extra time to
travel from Bismarck to Mandaree to
meet a client the foggy morning of March 5.
Less than a half-mile from his destination, he
was severely injured in a head-on collision
that left him bedridden for nine weeks.
Thanks to his own determination and the
support of his family and his healthcare
providers, he is well on his way to
Because of the type and severity of his
injuries, Esley was flown that day to
Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minn.
The Bismarck man had suffered a broken
right wrist, cracked vertebrae in his back, a
cracked knee cap, a broken ankle, damage to
his sciatic nerve and pelvic and hip fractures.
“My doctor said my pelvic injuries were the
worst he had ever seen,” Esley, 55, said. “The
left side near the hip was pulverized.”
The day after the accident, Esley underwent
13 hours of reconstructive surgery. “His
surgeon said it would be a slow process,
but Esley would walk again,” his wife,
Esley was flown to Sanford Health
“The level of care was seamless from
Regions Hospital to
Sanford Health, and
caregivers at both hospitals were
“Being home meant everything to us,” Esley said.
Home health care was also involved, providing physical therapy
and nurse visits.
In early May, Esley entered the hydrotherapy pool and a new phase in his rehabilitation through Sanford Health.
single-point cane or no assistive device. He plans to return to his job as trucking manager at Trustland
“The water provides less resistance and allows Esley to perform range of
motion and strengthening exercises while eliminating the risk of his implants
moving,” said Dr. Laura Gehrig, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with
Sanford Health Orthopedics.
Esley was initially wheeled into the pool. “I hadn’t stretched for nine
weeks,” he said. “I lay back in the water, and it felt too good to be true. It was
the first time I had confidence that I was going to be OK.”
On land, Esley had been unable to overcome gravity to move his left leg.
“With very minimal muscle, he was able to make a movement with his
leg in the water the first session,” Jamie Crane, Sanford Health physical
Esley can now walk unassisted in waist-deep water.
Melinda agreed hydrotherapy was a turning point. “The first time he flipped
over in the water, he had a look of bliss on his face,” she said. “It’s accelerated
his recovery and made him believe he would walk again. Jamie and the
hydrotherapy staff have been wonderful. They’ve become like family.”
Crane’s goal is for Esley to progress to a land-based therapy program. He
now walks unassisted using crutches or a walker. Eventually, he will walk
“Esley has advanced tremendously, and it’s only going to get better,”
Dr. Gehrig said.
The Thortons’ sons, Esley, Rhannon and Matt, along with Matt’s wife, Pam,
have been involved in every aspect of his recovery.
“Esley is a success story, but it wasn’t by chance,” Crane said. “He worked
very hard, and he had great support from his family.”
The Thorton family extends heartfelt thanks to all those who have helped
Esley in this journey, including the community, Esley’s healthcare providers,
his employer and North Dakota Workforce Safety & Insurance.
Those closest to him remain his foundation.
“My family has been wonderful, and I’m so proud of them,” Esley said.
“It’s amazing what others can help you do. I am truly blessed.”
Click here for more information on Sanford Rehabilitation Center or call (701) 323-6197.