Patient Story

Patient Pursuing Passion After Getting Second Chance at Life

San Marcos resident and engineering manager Michael Bollas had a rough start to his new year in 2018. While standing at home in early January, his legs went numb and he collapsed to the ground. Paralyzed from the waist down, Bollas was able to call 9-1-1 and was rushed to Palomar Medical Center Escondido where Dr. Andrew Nguyen diagnosed him with a staph infection that had attacked his spine.

Taken to surgery within an hour, Bollas said, “I thought I was going to die. Then after that I thought for sure I was going to be paralyzed.”

During the high-risk surgery, Dr. Nguyen was able to successfully remove the bacterial infection while preserving the integrity of the spinal cord. It was unknown if Bollas would be able to walk again, and Bollas said he was so weak he couldn’t keep his head up. Wearing a full back brace and working with physical therapists, Bollas was eventually able to stand with a walker and move very slowly.

After spending more than a month in the hospital, Bollas went home and received a few weeks of Home Health care before beginning two days a week of outpatient physical therapy at Palomar Health’s San Marcos facility.

On his first day, Palomar Health Physical Therapist Lindsay Chesney remembers Bollas could barely move.

“He basically lost control of his body,” Chesney said.

They started with very basic exercises to increase range of motion and gross movement, as the goal of physical therapy is to give patients the tools they need to treat themselves so they can get back to being who they were before the surgery.

“A lot of it (therapy) was us just sitting there and me being like ‘contract this muscle, talk to your leg, talk to your body,’” Chesney said.  

Bollas said it was like learning how to walk all over again, building muscle memory that had been lost in a second.

Now eight months later, Bollas has progressed to high-level balance and the kind of strength training any healthy person might do in a gym.

“If you saw him on the street now, you would never know that he had been through something so traumatic,” Chesney said.

Bollas said he’s grateful to everyone at Palomar Health for helping him get better.

“I think Palomar has been awesome, just amazing,” Bollas said. “Everyone has a great attitude…has been looking out for me more than just doing a job.”

Bollas said his near death experience has given him a new lease on life; “my second life” Bollas calls it. As he was laying in his hospital bed, he thought about what he’d like to do if he got better. Now he’s pursuing his teenage passion: music.

A few months ago he talked his fellow engineers into forming an ‘80s heavy metal air band with long hair wigs and guitars. They’ve been practicing in Bollas’s garage and will be putting on a concert on Dec. 8 at the 400-seat AVO Playhouse in Vista. Cheering on the band’s lead singer will be the therapists that helped open the door to his second life.

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