WALLINGFORD — When Kayla Carbaugh first woke in a hospital in Turkey she remembered being on the wall of an archeological site and then being on the ground near the wall. She didn’t remember the fall that paralyzed the 20-year-old from the waist down.
Carbaugh, who had just graduated from Lancaster Bible College in Pennsylvania, was on a school trip tracing the missionary journey of Paul, one of the Twelve Apostles.
While climbing around an archeological site, she fell 8 feet headfirst onto solid rock.
“My foot just slid out ... I just didn’t have a good footing,” Carbaugh said.
Her back was broken, she couldn’t move her legs, she had several broken ribs, a head wound that needed seven staples and her lungs were bleeding.
“You’re in so much pain at that point that you really just want medicine,” Carbaugh said.
Over the last four months, Carbaugh has been healing and learning how to function. Doctors have said she has a 25 percent chance of full recovery.
“As I whole, I feel like I’m handling it pretty well,” she said.
Things that used to take no time at all – like putting on pants – take much longer now.
“Things will become easier as time moves on, it’s just so fresh that everything is just even more annoying because you still have those memories of what it used to be like,” she said.
Her father, Rev. Michael Carbaugh, accompanied her to physical therapy last week, along with her grandmother. Learning of his daughter’s accident in a phone call was the worst feeling a parent could experience, made more difficult because she was thousands of miles away.
“I think a difficult part of it is what you envisioned this year would be is definitely not what it is and that's hard to deal with,” he said.
But he is encouraged by this daughter’s effort.
“...she takes every obstacle and approaches it with great tenacity and fire to be able to accomplish what needs to be done,” he said.Recovery
Carbaugh is an outpatient at Gaylord Specialty Healthcare in Wallingford. Last week she practiced walking in the hospital’s Ekso Bionics exoskeleton, something she’s done more than a handful of times now.
“There’s nothing about getting in a robot that makes you feel normal, but at the same time it’s like ‘oh I’m walking, I’m standing up, I’m looking at people,’” she said. “There’s that component of Ekso that makes you feel like a normal person and not a person attached to two wheels.”
Recently, Carbaugh walked more than 360 steps in it, one of her better sessions with physical therapist Tim Kilbride, the hospitals’ inpatient spinal cord injury specialist.
“She's very, very mobile and doing great … everything we throw at her she picks up in no time at all and has a very positive attitude,” Kilbride said.
The ultimate goal is for Carbaugh to be able to walk in the Ekso independently, without balance support from Kilbride and aides.Community support
The owners of Chick-fil-A in North Haven organized a fundraiser for Carbaugh – a former employee – in July, to help with medical costs.
The $4,600 raised will go towards the graduate degree she starts next month in “interactive communication and graphic design,” Carbaugh said.
She currently works remotely as a communications assistant for a church in Pennsylvania.
Carbaugh said she was touched to have Chick-fil-A owner, Sarah Gaudiano, invest time and effort into helping her. The act of kindness has deepened their relationship, she said.