Who is Tammy Rothrock?

The question, while of course unique to her, is something that is asked prior to every client’s admission to QLI. Medical records are reviewed, and interviews are held in an attempt to answer that very question. In the process of weeks, we learn about their life, work, and injury—a summary of the person and events that have led them to our proverbial doorstep. The real test then becomes to envision who they will be in the weeks, months, and years to come. The heart and soul rise to the forefront during this time, and you start to see them for more than their diagnosis, but who they truly are, with the weight of what their recovery will require starting to become more evident.

So, who was Tammy before her injury?

“Sarcastic,” jokes her husband Craig.

Tammy was someone whose life was in such a unique balance, a blend of idyllic and steadfast energy that resulted in something extraordinary. But let’s deconstruct what “extraordinary” means. It’s not climbing 20,000+ feet high mountains every weekend, skydiving dozens of times, or being the most traveled and accomplished polymath on the planet. This is what is truly extraordinary—building a loving family and growing to a point of pure happiness when you can enter into a stage in your life and reflect that you’ve raised children in your image who will go out into the world and do great, genuine things.

Tammy is dedicated, working for decades in the Human Resources field, with over fifteen spent at an agricultural company that became invested in her growth and success. For her, it became a passion taking a singular kind of grit. There was time to create things methodically too, enjoying the outdoors building a garden, and living for both the big and the little moments in life.

In January 2024, Tammy and Craig, went on a trip to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico, a nice break from the otherwise bitter symptoms of winter common in western Illinois. “We landed back in St. Louis,” Tammy remembers. There was a winter storm but Tammy wanted to get back to work on payroll for her fellow employees of Wabash Valley Service Company. They slowly drove a few miles back home before catching a patch of black ice and spinning out, hitting the center wall of the road.

Tammy sustained an incomplete spinal cord injury, necessitating a stay for a couple of weeks at a St. Louis area hospital before arriving at Shirley Ryan Ability Lab in Chicago to begin her rehabilitation journey.

Who is Tammy after her injury?

Even while recovering from a significant injury, she is still here—unflappable and utterly authentic. Tammy and her family are straight shooters. They know the journey will be tough, sure, but it doesn’t deter them in the slightest.

With that in front of them, Tammy aspires, “To recover, to get better, I’ll do all I can with my clinicians and everyone else. I’ll push myself towards all of those goals.” It’s the kind of attitude that leaves an indelible impression on those at QLI and cycles back to bolster her program.

The attitude was reciprocated to Tammy. “I’m always the first one to see Tammy in the mornings, so I guess you could say I see the ‘real her,’” jokes occupational therapist Melissa Faller. Awake, energetic, and ready to figure out what needs to be done. It is equal measures personality and a honed work ethic, and a sense of seizing the opportunities while they are still in front of her, discovering of what she is capable of. Working with Melissa, Tammy has gone from starting to coax back strength and ability into her hands, and may soon start the QLI driving program.

In an ideal world, every client who comes to QLI would get the exact right amount of time they need for recovery. But the world of insurance and benefits can be variable, and there may not be much in the way of guarantees. Coverage could run out, her continued stay could be denied, or change in some way that impacts the process. The Rothrocks know that no moment and day in rehabilitation can be taken for granted. Because of that nebulous world, they know it’s in their interest to maximize what they will take away from QLI.

“Spinal cord injuries affect people in all walks of life,” notes physical therapist Connor Davis. “People handle it differently, and the way Tammy is handling it inspires me. She could let it be devastating for herself and her support system, but she’s taken it in a stride with a good attitude and humor. She understands that she might not be able to walk again independently, but she’s still Tammy.”

It’s a mixture, says Connor, of continually developing Tammy’s program in a way that can allow Tammy to work through routines and become independent through the limitations her injury presents while at the same time leaving the door wide open for the return of leg function. Such returns don’t necessarily happen suddenly or overnight. They are the products of consistent hard work, such as repeated sessions with a variety of equipment and devices. These include ones like a Total Gym Machine, which allows the user to move through the motions of squatting on an incline, the Ekso exoskeleton, which provides bionic support for walking, or the FES bikes, with electrode attachments that provide stimulation for the legs to move in a pedaling motion. And it is working. Tammy is beginning to feel progress in her legs and her hand movements which is significant in terms of her future independence.

Through her ever-present and vibrant personality is the furthered desire to return to work, something she is working closely with assistive tech specialist and occupational therapist Olivia Ollis to make a reality. Thanks to a proliferation of technology tools aimed at bridging a gap towards accessibility, Tammy has had a litany of programs and devices to try. These might be experimenting with voice commands for using her phone, “and while dictation is great for work functions, the return she’s gotten in her upper extremities has enabled her to successfully use a typing stylus,” says Olivia, “which can wrap around fingers, along with a roller mouse. She can accomplish all the work tasks needed of her, moving quickly from program to program, able to execute the functions behind daily paperwork or bookkeeping and payroll.”

No matter how long she has left in her inpatient rehabilitation, it would be an understatement to say she has made the most of her time at QLI.

Who is Tammy Rothrock? 

“I’m driven,” says Tammy.