Graham's Story

Graham Autry gives two thumbs up after rehabilitation.

Graham Autry's journey is one of pure determination and the support of his loving family. Born and raised in the heart of Texas, Graham's life is a tribute to his resilient spirit. But his path has been far from ordinary.

At just nine years old, Graham faced a life-altering challenge when he underwent brain surgery for a cancerous tumor. Two years of grueling chemotherapy and radiation followed, leaving him with a rounding in his upper spine, hearing loss and recurring episodes of epilepsy. Despite these adversities, Graham persevered, independently managing his daily tasks, working at a Mexican restaurant for a decade and earning several medals as a proud member of the Special Olympics. A Dallas Cowboys fan, he also enjoys creative writing, which showcases his wit.

However, a morning that began like any other took a drastic turn when Graham's parents found the 34-year-old unresponsive on his bedroom floor. A 911 call led him to Medical City of Denton, where he experienced altered mental status and acute respiratory distress syndrome. He was intubated to help him breathe. Further medical complications ensued and he was placed on a ventilator and feeding tube.

Graham was in the ICU for two months and spent an additional two weeks at a long-term acute care hospital where he was liberated from his ventilator. His parents were a fixture during his hospital stays. His mother, Vanessa, recalled he was minimally responsive during his acute hospitalization. She said he couldn't hold a phone due to weakness and the cognitive impact of medical complications. Walking and basic daily tasks were out of the question as well because of his prolonged hospitalization.

Graham’s medical team recommended Graham for intense rehabilitation to reclaim his life. His parents chose Select Rehabilitation Hospital of Denton, a decision influenced by their positive past experiences with outpatient physical therapy there and glowing recommendations from friends regarding the inpatient services.

Upon arrival, Graham and his family knew that recovery wouldn't happen overnight. Their goals were clear: rebuild strength, regain the ability to walk unaided, improve communication and rediscover the joys of everyday life.

Physical therapy (PT) helped improve Graham’s endurance, balance and speed while walking. This helped reduce his risk of falls while making him stronger and better able to handle daily tasks. Graham and his team did this through therapeutic activities such as the Sci-fit machine, an arm bike that boost his upper body strength, standing tasks with support of handrails for balance, and directing Graham around various obstacles while he walked with the support of a walker to improve balance, foot clearance and turning abilities. Vanessa said “Graham’s rapid breathing and rapid heart rate were challenging at first, but the turning point was when he finally could walk the distance of the entire hallway (100 steps).” PT also trained his family how to safely help him change position and support him while he worked on walking.

In occupational therapy (OT), Graham engaged in therapy to build his overall strength, endurance and balance to increase his independence with everyday activities. “I liked how they helped him with his daily tasks and how everyone was treated with dignity,” Vanessa shared. With Graham’s history of extensive hospitalizations, regular daily tasks were challenging. Therapists educated and trained him and his family on safety and energy conservation strategies. They also demonstrated ways to modify tasks and use adaptive equipment such as reachers and sock and shoe aids to give Graham greater independence in bathing, grooming and dressing.

Graham's worked with speech therapists on swallowing, vocalizing and cognition, using engaging games to enhance his alertness, concentration and processing speed. They also worked to increase Graham’s ability to express himself using simple phrases and conversation prompts to improve the way he communicated thoughts, wants and needs. Breathing and swallowing exercises were also part of his therapy.  After conducting a swallow study to assess his swallowing ability, Graham’s therapists safely advanced him to a diet of regular liquids and soft foods.

Throughout his recovery journey, Graham had crucial support from his family. Vanessa was a constant presence by his side, supported by her mother-in-law and Graham's father, who arranged his schedule to be at the hospital every morning. They advocated for Graham, participated in therapy sessions through the hospital’s care partner program and provided the necessary items for his stay.

After about three weeks at Select Medical Rehabilitation Hospital of Denton for inpatient services, Graham was walking with a rolling walker, able to tend to his self-care needs with minimal assistance, on a regular diet and able to communicate. He was ready to return home to his family and continue honing his strength and skills through the hospital’s outpatient services. During outpatient therapy he is continuing to progress and working towards returning to his restaurant job.

Asked about their experience at Select Rehabilitation Hospital of Denton, Vanessa shared: “Everyone was so friendly — I feel the therapists and nurses were attentive and cared for him not just as a patient, but as a person.”

*Patient success stories from across our hospital network.