CHESTER >> A city native got back on his feet while a graduate student got real world experience in her field this winter at Widener University’s Chester Community Physical Therapy Clinic.
William Beachem, of Silver Spring, Md., returned to his hometown in November to recuperate after a September motorcycle accident left him in a wheelchair. With the support of his family and the work of Jackie Krempasky and fellow grad students from the university’s Institute for Physical Therapy Education, Beachem is back home and walking under his own power.
“The night I got him walking, our supervisor said to me, ‘Put this one under your belt, because you might never experience this again,’” said Krempasky, a second-year graduate student and Upper Perkiomen High School graduate.
Beachem, 50, was raised on West 13th Street near Kerlin before leaving for Maryland to start a limousine and transportation business in the early 1990s.
Riding since age 19, Beachem and another member of a Silver Spring-based motorcycle club were en route to a funeral on Sept. 23. “We were going on bikes to support a member because his son had passed,” he said. “As we came over the crest of a hill, traffic came to a stop and I couldn’t slow down quick enough – I could see the car and I went right into the back.”
The accident resulted in a four breaks to his left femur, three to his right, a dislocated shoulder and damage to a heart value, along with an ensuing stroke.
“My father worked as an operating room technician for 29 years and said he’s never seen a femur break in four places,” Beachem said. “I knew I was in trouble.”
Beachem was helivaced from the accident site to an area hospital where two major surgeries followed. He was then spent two months at the MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C.
“They’re one of the best in the country and got me back in order to move again,” he said. “The one thing they couldn’t do was put family around me all the time, so I went to Pennsylvania.”
After his Nov. 15 release from the hospital, Beachem moved in at his sister’s house in Chester, where she and their mother – both Registered Nurses – could provide private nursing.
“Some of my family members quit their jobs to take care of me,” he said. “I’d be naming people forever. The whole family rallied behind me – making sure my business didn’t close, the mortgage on my house was paid. Without them I wouldn’t have made it.”
Based on the recommendation of MedStar Hospital, he contacted the physical therapy clinic at Widener. Opened in 2009, the student-led Chester Community Physical Therapy Clinic at 22nd Street and Providence Avenue provides treatment to uninsured and underinsured patients.
“The clinic is mostly why I choose this program,” said Krempasky. “I’m already practicing patient care. At a lot of other schools, you can’t do that until you graduate.”
The clinic gives doctor of physical therapy students like Krempasky, who is undecided in what part of the physical therapy field she wants to pursue, a chance to work with patients dealing with a variety of issues from post-surgery recovery to chronic quality of life issues.
Among the patients regaining mobility from total knee replacements, shoulder surgery, stroke recovery, spinal injury, and back and neck pain, Beachem’s case stood out.
“Just having a regular cast, your muscles will atrophy,” Krempasky said. “To see someone fragile and stuck in braces, with a lot of instructions and precautions from their doctor, everyone was a little intimidated.”
Students got to work improving wheelchair mobility for Beachem, who had been given a timeline of one year until walking again after his surgeries in late September. He began to exceed that timeline within a month at the clinic.
“He was doing so well the first night out of the wheelchair I was able to give him a walker,” said Krempasky, who guided Beachem from his wheelchair to parallel bars, putting him back on his feet for the first time since the accident.
“I was walking in about three weeks at Widener,” he said. “I’m way ahead of schedule. I’m walking slowly under my own power. I’m working as hard as I can to get back to my normal speed before the accident – I expect in a couple more months.”
Beachem is now working on his balance and climbing the steps of his Maryland home. He and the clinic are working on arrangements for him to return for the ending stages of his therapy. He is returning to his limousine company but “plans to do a lot less hands on.” The accident marked the end of his 30 years of motorcycle riding.
“I’m going to concentrate on spending time with my wife – there are a lot of things you take for granted,” he said.
Krempasky hasn’t taken her hands-on experience with Beachem and other patients at the clinic for granted as she enters her first clinical rotations in April. “Seeing it in real life is the most beneficial thing as a student here,” she said. “I can’t imagine not having done this.”