Patient Story

Physical Therapy Puts Life Back Together for Palomar Health Patient

Life for William “Bill” McNaughton was good. He had a successful career in electronic engineering sales, was owner of a software company, owned two Harley Davidson motorcycles, had close friends, family, and a girlfriend. As an avid fitness enthusiast and regular at the local gym, 42-year-old Bill enjoyed great health. But it all came crashing down one fateful Sunday afternoon.

On May 30, 2015 he participated in the Rock and Roll 5K run. The next day he went for a leisurely Sunday motorcycle ride with his friends. On his way home to San Marcos, he was brutally struck by a drunk driver. His girlfriend riding on the back of the bike was thrown 30 feet. Bill was crushed between the two vehicles, landed on the car’s hood, ending up on the ground. 

“The accident is still vivid in my mind,” Bill says two years later. “I saw my girlfriend face down in the middle of the street (30 feet away) and tried to get to her but couldn’t move. I knew I was in trouble.”

Paramedics arrived within two minutes. He was life-flighted to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a broken pelvis, broken hip, a shattered foot, and a cut in his thigh down to the bone. He would stay in the hospital for 10 days while undergoing surgeries and a skilled nursing facility for more than three months. He was in a wheel chair for four months and would endure 11 surgeries over a two-year period to put his body back together. He was told by the doctors he would never run again. (His girlfriend escaped without serious injury).

However, the tragedy is not the real story, even though it ended up on the evening news. It’s just the background that gives context to Bill’s miraculous road to recovery.

That road started when Bill decided he needed to detox from all the narcotics he was taking.

“I was at a point where I was taking 11 Percocets (highly addictive pain medication) a day. It makes you high all the time, but takes care of the pain,” Bill said.

As part of his plan to end his addiction to painkillers, he went to Minnesota with his father for a five day get-away. He knew his father would be able to handle his inevitable mood swings. He stopped taking the narcotics cold turkey. When he returned home, he started Physical Therapy at Palomar Health.

“Narcotics mask the pain. Without knowing where your pain is, it’s hard to know what to work on,” Bill said.

Despite having 11 surgeries to repair various ailments including reattaching his pelvic muscles, Bill says physical therapy is what has made him whole.

“Surgery fixes bones and muscles but there’s a lot more to do after that. Some people are okay with just being okay, but if you want to have a full recovery you have to take rehabilitation seriously.”

When patients are admitted into the Palomar Health Physical Therapy program they fill out paperwork outlining goals. Bill says his ultimate goal was to get to 100% health and to prove the doctors wrong and run again.

“I felt there was a reason I didn’t die. I lived through this so I can inspire other people.”

Bill initially began three physical therapy sessions a week, lasting 45 minutes, with Beth McCarthy. Bill says Beth was very patient, knowing how far to push him without hurting him. He later had the help of Scott Hebel and Felice Gebhardt.

“Beth said ‘let’s take it one step at a time and get you to the next level’,” Bill said.

Early sessions focused on addressing the pain, getting flexibility and motion in Bill’s hips, foot and pelvis. There was a lot of work with Thera-bands and electro stimulation of the hip and back muscles. Strength training came later.

Most importantly, Bill says his physical therapists were flexible, basing sessions around how he felt. If his back was feeling uncomfortable, they would focus on that. If it was his ankle, that’s where the emphasis would go.

“I can’t say enough about the knowledge the physical therapists at Palomar Health have. Listening to me and understanding what needs to be worked on…what needs to be done while I was at home,” Bill said.

Unable to walk without the aid of crutches when he arrived at Palomar Health four months after his accident, Bill’s hard work and assistance from his physical therapists paid off when he began walking without assistance three months later. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017 was a landmark day in Bill’s life. Almost two years after nearly dying in a motorcycle accident, and after being told he would never run again, Bill returned to run in the Rock and Roll 5K.

“It was important and symbolic for me to run in the same Rock n’ Roll 5K that I ran the day before the accident. Many of my friends who supported me through the last two years ran it with me and it was just amazing!”

Two weeks later he took his first ride on his Harley Davidson since the accident (the one not wrecked in the crash).

“I was a little nervous before jumping on the bike for the first time in two years but, after starting it up, putting it in gear and getting on the road, it felt like the last two years didn’t even happen. I had a big smile on my face the entire way home.”

Now about 95% healthy by his own assessment, Bill attributes his success to his determination, the support of his family and friends, and the aid of his physical therapists.

“What Palomar Health did was provide me the tools and expertise. There’s no possible way I could have done it without them.”

Photo above: Bill McNaughton’s driving force was to run in the 2017 San Diego Rock N Roll 5K.

Do you have questions about rehabilitation services at Palomar Health in North San Diego County?  Visit Our Services for more information, Contact Us or Find our Location(s).

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