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Robi’s Rehabilitation Story

Sometimes having fun can be the most healing thing in the world for a teen.

It can be healing all by itself, and it can also open up connections to other people that are there to help them.

Robel, or “Robi” as he likes to go by, always has a smile on his face and a friendly attitude with everyone he meets. He first came to Shriners Children’s Philadelphia from Ethiopia after he sustained a T9 spinal cord injury from a fall that left him paralyzed below the waist. He needed long-term rehabilitation, and was connected to the hospital as part of the international patient program.

“After my accident, I was not able to sit on my own, take a shower, dress myself, transfer myself in and out of my wheelchair, and even feed myself,” Robi, who is 17 years old, explained. “I was completely dependent on others for pretty much everything.”

Being an older patient, he was given a full physical and occupational therapy schedule to increase his independence as much as possible. To accomplish this, his therapies mainly focused on building upper body strength using weight lifting, seated aerobics, balance exercises, walking with leg braces, wheelchair basketball and table tennis.

The severity and circumstances of his injury caused his stay at the hospital to be longer than most other patients. Because of this, he made friends with almost every employee, from every area of care in the hospital. One of his lasting legacies at the hospital was how much he connected with the staff and other patients, and how he always managed to brighten everyone’s day.

Finding Purpose Through Music Therapy

According to Robi, such a traumatic accident like he experienced causes someone to think about life. Specifically to think about his purpose and how to stay positive about life when everything seems to be going wrong. With the help of Becky Dadi, the music therapist that runs the music therapy program at the hospital, Robi was able to channel his emotions into a wonderful song. “Writing this song helped me remember that I believe God is in control,” he said. “It’s good to remember that he’s always there.”

“Getting to work with Robi was a true highlight in my career as a music therapist,” Becky said. “He was open, honest and creative when working with me to write his original song.” She noted that it was easier for him to express thoughts and feelings about a difficult subject when the goal was to create his very own song, filled with his story, struggles and triumphs.

Robi's music therapy song at Shriners Children's Philadelphia

Becky the music therapist worked with Robi at Shriners Children's Philadelphia to help channel his thoughts and feelings into something creative. “Writing this song helped me remember that I believe God is in control,” Robi said. “It’s good to remember that he’s always there.” Becky shared her thoughts on helping working with Robi in music therapy. “Getting to work with Robi was a true highlight in my career as a music therapist,” she said. “He was open, honest and creative when working with me to write his original song.” She noted that it was easier for him to express thoughts and feelings about a difficult subject when the goal was to create his very own song, filled with his story, struggles and triumphs.
View Transcript

Speaker 1: (singing)

Speaker 2: (singing)  That's it.

Speaker 3: So good.

For me, as a music therapist, to watch this young man fearlessly express himself and gain a strong sense of self-confidence and mastery through music was truly a special experience.
Becky, music therapist at Shriners Children's Philadelphia

Some of the other special moments that Robi participated in during his stay were activities through the hospital’s recreational therapy program. The program is interlaced through the rest of the rehabilitation program in the hospital, so they work hand-in-hand to provide a complete healing experience.

All of these “extras” provided by the recreational therapists only added to the benefits of the physical and occupational therapy that Robi received throughout the few months at the hospital. Through his team of therapists, he was able to make large improvements in his mobility, pain management, and independence.

“I was able to regain my independence and was also able to get rid of my excruciating back pain,” Robi said.

He learned how to cook, transfer himself in and out of his wheelchair, dress and take a shower by himself, wash his clothes, and other daily routines that “made me incredibly independent and confident.”

“The therapies I received at Shriners [Hospital] helped me to recover from my injury and develop a strong, healthy and an independent body," he said.

During the last week of Robi’s stay at the hospital, he spent time saying goodbye to all the wonderful staff members that he got to meet. He also spent time writing a heartfelt note to the entire hospital, which was shared on the hospital’s social media and to the staff through their employee newsletter.

Because his situation was more unusual for the amount of time he had to stay as an inpatient, the recreational therapists put together an Italian-themed goodbye lunch for Robi. During his time in America, he found out he loved many things, including pasta! He was leaving the next day for Canada to be with extended family, and it was the perfect way for everyone to say goodbye and wish him well.

Look at all that Robi was able to do!

Recreational therapists at Shriners Children's Philadelphia gave Robi many opportunities to heal through fun and laughter. A complete approach to rehabilitation often includes physical, occupational and recreational therapy.

Robi with physical therapist

Mallory Meyer, PT, at Shriners Children's Philadelphia, worked with Robi to build muscle strength to help him gain independence after his spinal cord injury.

Robi wearing VR headset

Robi also experienced virtual reality during his rehabilitation. Recreational therapists use these headsets to provide fun experiences to patients, or help them relax during medical procedures.

robi and others building snowman

Since he was here over the winter months in 2021, Robi was able to build "Shivers the Shriners Snowman" with Becky and students from the child life team.

Robi cooking

The Philadelphia Shriners Hospital has a fully functional occupational therapy kitchen that helped Robi learn to cook for himself. One of his favorites to make was pasta!

thank you letter

Robi caused many in the hospital to tear up when he hand-wrote a thank-you note expressing his gratitude to everyone that helped him along the way. The hospital shared his note on social media and through the hospital employee newsletter.

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