John Knight walked into the Dignity Health – Northridge Hospital Medical Center with his 13-month-old daughter Alyssa on Monday, June 14. He also helped her take some steps around portions of the facility.
The best part of the visit: Knight, who had sustained a severe spinal injury that nearly left him paralyzed three years ago, could walk around and carry his daughter without needing a wheelchair, walker, cane or other types of assistance.
“The (emotion of the moment) was definitely strong,” Knight said. “I didn’t know if I’d ever walk again; as soon as I was injured I had no feeling from the waist down. I thought I might be wheelchair-bound for the rest of my life. And it was also a major concern of mine if I could ever have a family.
“To be able to take my daughter where I started that rehab journey was very special,” he said.
There were plenty of happy personnel at Dignity Health to greet them. And no one was happier than Dr. Danny Arzanipour, the medical director of rehabilitation services.
Dr. Arzanipour had first seen him as a patient, and when Knight was at a low physical and psychological point. Knight — who was born in Studio City and currently works in the city of Los Angeles’ Recreation and Parks Department— and his then new bride Alana, born in Canoga Park, were enjoying their honeymoon on the island of Bora Bora three years ago when Knight suffered a severe spinal cord injury; a cervical vertebra fracture that left him unable to walk.
“His injury was called ‘incomplete,’ meaning there was still some connection between the spine at the level of injury,” said Arzanipour, in recalling the trauma.
When Knight was brought to Dignity Health, first for medical treatment, and then rehab, Arzanipour said his patient was “still pretty debilitated — he couldn’t walk or do ‘transfers’ (getting up from a lying down or sitting position). When a spine injury like that is incomplete you do have some potential for recovery and improvement. But in the early stages, we work just as hard no matter if we expect improvement or not because we can’t predict [the level of recovery].”
A patient’s dedication to the rehabilitative process is crucial, the doctor said. They may have to completely retrain their bodies to do the most basic things, like turning around in bed, being able to transfer from a lying position to get into a wheelchair or use a walker, and maintaining proper hygiene.
“When [patients] first realize what’s going on they can be confused and anxious,” Arzanipour said. “Their definition of ‘recovery’ is also very different at first, as far as the timeline. You can’t throw everything at them at once. The process is about slowly feeding them the information; you can’t give them too much information or too little.
“The rehab process is just one more step in the overall process [of recovery]. It’s not just about taking one step…you have to work on balance and strengthening and the range of motion in your joints. And you have to work on confidence and hope — your belief in where you are going with this. You can’t recover without that.”
Knight spent six arduous weeks with the Rehabilitation team to regain the use of his legs.
“It was like relearning how to do everything all over again,” he said. “Not just walking, but also sitting up, standing, rolling over. There was even a lack of functionality with my hands. I couldn’t brush my teeth or tie my shoes or bathe myself.
“But [the rehabilitation staff] was there to support my determination and encourage my hopes and dreams to get back as much function as possible.”
There were times he felt like quitting. But when his right leg began to function, Knight said, his full resolve also returned.
“I told myself that even if my left leg didn’t come back, I was thinking, ‘chop it off and give me a prosthetic.’ Because I am gonna walk again,” he said.
Six months after being discharged, he was able to walk unassisted. Then, exactly two years after the accident, Knight became a father for the first time.
He has worked hard at being a participating parent, from changing diapers to witnessing Alyssa’s first steps. Exactly three years after he took his first steps at the hospital, Alyssa began to walk for the very first time.
The return to Dignity Health on Monday was not only emotional one for Knight, but also for all of those who helped in his recovery.
“Amazing and heartwarming,” Arzanipour said. “It’s hard to put into words because when I saw him a year-and-a-half ago at some events we had, he was [still] using a walker and talking about building up endurance. Now he’s holding his 13-month-old daughter in his hands, working out at a gym and he doesn’t need any support. We’re not worried about him losing his balance.
“He’s just like me and you.”
This weekend won’t be the first Father’s Day for Knight. Alyssa was born last April, but “last year she was only two months old and we were knee-deep in a pandemic and unable to celebrate it the way we wanted to,” Knight said
“It means a lot to celebrate this Father’s Day with her and not being confined to a chair; to take her to the park and push her in a swing. I’ve come a long way. And she is a dream come true.”