Madison man learns to walk again after near-fatal crash, overcomes addiction

MADISON — It’s almost hard to imagine that four years ago a near-fatal car crash left Jason Bedford unable to walk and addicted to pain medication.

Bedford looks pretty fit as he propels himself into a box jump, a high-impact exercise typically done in CrossFit gyms.

He lets out a whoop after he lands on a cushioned box in the proper form, on his heels, knees bent.

“I actually didn’t think I could do this like a month ago,” he said, catching his breath.

This exercise is part of a strenuous routine he does for his physical therapy at Gaylord Specialty Healthcare in Madison.

Bedford isn’t only working on his body, but his life. He also turned his addiction around and found a new career.

The former stockbroker now is a substance abuse counselor after successfully weaning himself off opioids prescribed to treat his pain, and earning his master’s degree in clinical psychology, specializing in substance abuse.

“I was in grad school while I learned to walk again,” he said.

After the crash, Bedford had no functional use of his left leg.

“I had no feeling in my left leg when I first came here. … I had to wear a brace,” Bedford recalled. “I had zero sensation.”

“He had like a totally flaccid foot,” Gaylord physical therapist Andrew McIsaac said.

Doing ordinary tasks was incredibly difficult and scary.

“The minute I was in the shower — you feel like you’re in space, you have no balance at all. It was really bad,” Bedford said.

But Bedford’s motto is: “Don’t give up before a miracle happens.”

The crash

The crash was life-changing for the Madison resident. Driving home from working in Massachusetts, Bedford’s Honda Fit skidded on ice and flipped several times, sliding off the road and down an embankment, not visible to other motorists.

Trapped in the car for an hour, he lost a dangerous amount of blood and suffered a shattered hip, head injury and severe compound fractures in his arm, all of which required five surgeries.

Luckily, someone walking a dog noticed headlights in the forest and called 911, according to Bedford.

At Gaylord, McIsaac takes Bedford through his paces with various exercises and “dry needling,” in which needles are inserted into muscle tissue to open up nerve pathways using electrical current.

He’s been for with McIsaac for three years and progressed from finally being able to move his big toe, a major breakthrough — to standing unaided, a milestone. Now he walks normally and even golfs.

The degree of his past injuries aren’t obvious to a casual observer. He pointed to his eye-catching tattoo of an owl, which covers his entire forearm, disguising scars from multiple skin grafts.

McIsaac encouraged Bedford to try box jumps and other tricky exercises. He told Bedford, “’If you want to do it, let’s work for it,'” McIsaac recalled.

“Challenging myself to do something like this, allows me to walk hills more regularly — like walk down hills, just take chances. Just be more confident too,” Bedford said.

It’s been a journey for Bedford — physically and emotionally.

He went from using a wheelchair to a walker, then wearing a leg brace and using two canes, to one cane, then none.

The single dad said he was “driven” to walk again to be able to care for his daughter, now 12.

“Gaylord is my how, my daughter’s my why,” Bedford said about working with McIsaac.

When a nurse told him to get used to being in a wheelchair early on in his convalescence, Bedford said, “I don’t believe you.”

McIsaac said, “We as medical professionals play a huge role in what we tell them. If I cap the expectations — ‘You’re never going to be able to walk again’ — he’s going to go into things with the expectation he’s never going to walk again, so he won’t even try.”

“Some people might not have walked again,” McIsaac added.

Bedford’s early goal was to get back to basic functioning.

“My first goal was to be able to use the bathroom,” he said, noting it was difficult to maneuver using only one leg.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” he said.

Then his goal changed to, “I would like to be able to take a walk somewhere, even a short walk.”

The dry needling, which is based on Western medicine, helped Bedford see the first major results, according to McIsaac. The needles are placed from muscles in the lumbar region to his calf muscles to get them to contract and open pathways to communicate with the nerves there.

At first, McIsaac used more intense electric impulses on Bedford but now has tapered off as his muscles have responded well to the stimulation.

McIsaac explained, “When we first started doing this with him we started using higher amount of hertz to get smaller contractions of those muscles, because they weren’t turning on. Now he’s got voluntary control over those muscles so we’ve turned the frequency down.”

Bedford’s physical recovery also was a time to “rethink things,” he said. “I felt like I was rebuilding in a lot of ways.”

About his drug and alcohol counseling – he has 35 clients now, he said — “It’s nice to share that there’s hope.”

Bedford said he can relate to those who are dealing with substance abuse issues from his own experience becoming addicted to opioids while in recovery from his surgeries. He had been taking the medication for about a year.

“I was prescribed almost a bottomless pit — an endless supply of opioids by well-meaning doctors,” he said. “They just kept throwing more medicine at me.”

“When I wanted to decrease how much I was taking it… I really struggled. I really struggled to get off of it,” Bedford recalled.

He talked about it with McIsaac, who felt it was getting in the way of his physical therapy.

“I became really motivated” when McIsaac had advised him “‘the pain is informative,’” Bedford said. “I couldn’t feel what I needed to do, or where I needed to work on, without feeling it.”

“With some help I was able to successfully wean myself completely off it over time. It was not easy,” Bedford admitted. “I just asked them to slowly taper down the amount I was using.”

Bedford had kept in touch with other patients he met at the rehab facilities who also were prescribed opioids.

“I watched their trajectory and how they were struggling,” he said. “I got interested in helping people get off the opioids. So I realized that was really gratifying.”

Now, as a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, he can continue “the work I was doing with people in my own private life. I realized this is what I want to do — help people get well.”

“It’s a calling for sure,” he said about his new career.

Bedford said he believes his path has become a spiritual one, as well, especially as the crash heightened his awareness, he said.

“After my accident I had an out-of-body experience, which was really remarkable,” he recalled.

“I just developed this profound faith that still motivates me today,” he said. “It was really surreal. I got to see behind the veil a little bit. It was right after the accident, I could like see myself inside the car from above.”

“It really helped keeping me trying, hopeful,” he added. “Prayer really helped a lot. So that is a really big part of my story, as well.”

It was his faith and “asking help from a high power” that helped overcome his addiction to opioids, he said.

His new career strengthens his faith, he said.

“I get to see miracles every day. People get their lives back, their families back, they find themselves,” he said.

“And it’s remarkable.”

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