‘Lucky To Be Alive’

Rescued crash survivor grateful for pain-relieving therapies.

The details of “the crash” are important, but not as important as this: Andrew Biggart is alive. In his words, he’s “lucky to be alive,” and there is nothing hyperbolic about those words or the horrific events that lay at the root of them.

Headshot of Andrew Biggart

Andrew Biggart

On the afternoon of Nov. 29, 2018, Andrew was driving to his mother’s house in Hernando Beach. As he turned his car onto Shoal Line Drive, control of the accelerator and brakes was suddenly and inexplicably wrested from him.

In a matter seconds, the car was hurtling down the two-lane road at more than 90 miles per hour. After striking the back of a van, the car careened into the opposite lane, where it was about to crash head-on into another car when Andrew pulled left on the steering wheel.

That sent the car nose first into a tree in front of Nature Coast Marina, where the car burst into flames. Within four minutes, though, a group of fishermen ran to the scene and with nothing more than muscle and adrenalin rescued Andrew from the burning wreck.

“Those fishermen are the reason I’m alive,” Andrew reasons. “On any other day, they would have been out fishing at that time. But it was too cold to go out that day, so they were just hanging out and talking at the marina when my car hit the tree.”

Since his rescue, Andrew has spent every day traveling a slow path to recovery from his injuries, which included losing his right foot, breaking both his legs, two vertebrae, all 24 ribs and suffering third-degree burns on his legs and arms.Lucky to be alive, indeed.

“I spent three months in the severe burn ward at Tampa General Hospital, where the doctors and nurses were amazing,” Andrew exclaims. “After that, I started my rehab. But for a year, I felt like the facility I was visiting was running me around in circles.

“COVID-19 was a big part of it because there was a long pause where I couldn’t do much of anything. I was very discouraged. Eventually, my mom, who knows Charles Donley, sent me to Regional Rehab. The way I feel since I started going there is like night and day.”

Assessing the Whole Patient

Regional Rehab is the practice of Charles C. Donley, PT, and Paul Ernandes, PT, PhD. When Andrew first arrived there late last year, he was still so riddled with pain that, by his own admission, he had become quite ornery and difficult to be around.

That has all changed in the months since Andrew began treatment at Regional Rehab, where the staff’s penchant for looking beyond each patient’s primary complaint sparked discoveries that accelerated Andrew’s recovery and slowly erased his pain.

“Once we have each evaluated a patient, Paul and I will collaborate and discuss the findings of our individual comprehensive assessments,” Charles explains. “We believe those comprehensive evaluations and collaborations are the keys to our success.”

“I’m back up to 85 or 90 percent, and I owe so much of that to Paul, Charles, Brandi and everyone at Regional Rehab.”- Andrew

They were for Andrew, who arrived at Regional Rehab complaining mostly of excruciating pain in his right hip, right leg and left ankle, which had been crushed in the crash, and “phantom pain” throughout the rest of his body.

“The pain in his right leg was stump pain, meaning he was experiencing pain at the point where his leg was now fitting into his new prosthetic foot,” Paul discloses. “The left ankle pain was because he had all kinds of plates and screws in there.”

Like the “phantom pain,” Andrew’s hip pain was a bit of a mystery. Paul eventually solved that mystery by performing a gait assessment that revealed an adverse rotation in Andrew’s hips. Following the gait adjustment, the pace of Andrew’s recovery began to increase.

Helping to expedite the team’s progress was its extensive use of two advanced modalities at the core of Regional Rehab’s treatment protocol. One is the Class IV deep tissue therapeutic laser. The other is the HIVAMAT® 200 deep oscillation therapy device.

The laser uses specific wavelengths of red and near-infrared light to stimulate the body’s natural ability to heal cells. It works by releasing nitric oxide, which removes congestion and swelling, promotes rapid healing and reduces discomfort while increasing blood circulation.

The HIVAMAT 200 creates gentle impulses that relax muscles and penetrate all tissue layers to remove the inflammatory byproducts that cause pain in cells. In addition to those modalities, Paul used a third treatment in addressing Andrew’s stump, ankle and leg pain.

“We put both of his legs in a foot bath and ran an electric current through the bath, so the current went through both legs,” Paul informs. “By placing the electrode in the water, the whole bath becomes an electrode that allows us to treat a bigger surface.”

A Walk in the Park

The treatments on his lower extremities were nothing short of life-altering for Andrew. In addition to alleviating much of his pain, they allowed for even more therapy aimed at normalizing Andrew’s balance and mobility.

Andrew Biggart in his yard throwing a frisbee to his dog.

Playing with his dog is one of the many life pleasures that Andrew has regained in recent months.

Those therapies included walking on uneven ground, walking up and down hills, and even participating in baseball batting practice. Those are activities Andrew could not do just a few months earlier.

“When we first started working with Andrew, he could not stand for any more than four or five minutes,” reports Brandi Girard, PTA. “Now he can stand and walk for as much as 45 minutes before he needs to rest. He can also do a lot of other dynamic activities as well.

“But it’s not just his balance and mobility that have improved. Andrew was pretty down when he started with us. Now, he’s got a whole new outlook on life. He’s very driven and motivated, and that’s what’s brought him to this point.”

“This point” is not yet what most would consider normal. But it’s close. Andrew’s pain levels – including the phantom pain, for which he acted on Paul’s advice to receive acupuncture – are now tolerable and continue to diminish.

“I’ve gone from sweating my way through each day because I was in so much pain that I couldn’t stand it, to walking my dog and even taking him to the dog park to play with him,” Andrew shares.

“I can stay on my feet all day now and go to bed relatively pain-free. I can’t tell you what a relief that is. After a few months of working with everybody at Regional Rehab and doing all the home exercises they’ve given me, I’m feeling better than I have in two years.

“I’m back up to 85 or 90 percent, and I owe so much of that to Paul, Charles, Brandi Girard and Leanna Ramirez (laser technician). The people at Regional Rehab changed my life. They’ve saved me and have been so good to me that there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for them.”

© FHCN article by Roy Cummings. Photo by Jordan Pysz. js
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    • Regional Rehab

      Regional Rehab's ultimate goal is to enrich people’s lives by helping to enhance their physical and mental well being, creating an atmosphere of quality care and optimum healing with a loving touch.... Read More

    • Charles C. Donley, PT

      Charles C. Donley, PT, is the owner of Regional Rehab. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in physical therapy, graduating cum laude, from the University of Pittsburgh. He served on the board of the Hernando County United Way, is a d... Read More

    • Paul Ernandes, PT, PhD

      Paul A. Ernandes, PT, PhD, joined Regional Rehab in April 2018. He previously was director of physical therapy at Vitality Physicians and Rehab and spent 10 years as director of rehabilitation at Oak Hill Hospital in Brooksville. He has also ... Read More