A Long Walk to the Altar

Like many brides with pre-wedding jitters, Michaela Bushey Devins ’11 thought she was going to pass out before she could walk down the aisle at her wedding on January 1, 2015. But for Michaela, 24, it would be the first time she’d walked that far in five years after having been paralyzed from the neck down in an accident. After a few deep breaths, some encouragement from her physical therapist, and the support of a robotic exoskeleton suit, Michaela was able to meet her boyfriend of almost nine years, Kyle Devins ’11, at the altar.

In 2010, the summer before her senior year at IC, Michaela was injured when a shallow-water dive she made into a swimming pool went wrong. [ICView told her story in the winter 2011 issue]. Kyle stabilized Michaela, and after months of intensive, grueling therapy, she was able to graduate from IC on time—and the relationship between Michaela and Kyle became stronger than ever. What could have been a tragic story has instead been one of love, strength, and mutual support.

Physical improvement

Since ICView last checked in on Michaela in 2011, she has improved her balance, torso and arm strength, and has even regained a small amount of movement. She has also made strides using the Ekso, a mechanized exoskeleton suit that allows her to walk with the help of a physical therapist. With the help of family members, she makes a weekly six-hour trip from her home in Plattsburgh, New York, to Allentown, Pennsylvania, for physical therapy at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital. Michaela hopes the futuristic technology will eventually be available for home use, but until then she doesn’t mind the drive.

“It’s a therapy that, for me, is so worth it. I don’t even think twice about making the trip because—of all the therapies that I’ve done and all of the places I’ve been—this therapy feels different to me,” said Michaela. “The way it simulates walking, it’s like my brain remembers, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what my body is supposed to do,’ and that’s really exciting to me.”

Professional gains

Aside from her health gains, Michaela has made professional gains as well. She earned a master’s degree in literacy education from the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Plattsburgh in December and is currently tutoring. She hopes to teach full-time when her therapy schedule allows for it.

Michaela’s accident also had an unexpected effect on Kyle’s career path. Seeing that Kyle was inspired by the doctors she worked with, Michaela suggested that he consider going to medical school. Kyle, who still holds the record for the long jump at Ithaca College, graduated with an athletic training degree from IC. Now in his third year at SUNY Upstate Medical University, he is in the Rural Medical Scholars Program, which gives students the opportunity to do some of their clinical rotations in an affiliated community hospital in New York State. The program is designed to recruit students from rural areas to go to medical school. He is doing his clinical time at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh and will do his residency next summer. 

“I didn’t take Michaela seriously at first, but then I started thinking, ‘You know, maybe going to medical school would be something I’m interested in,’” said Kyle. “It’s pretty demanding, and dating someone in med school is not easy, but it’s strengthened our relationship because Michaela is always encouraging me when I’m completely worn out.”

Supportive partners

Mutual encouragement has kept Kyle and Michaela’s relationship going for nearly a decade, from high school through graduate school, truly in sickness and in health.

“I don’t remember the first two and a half weeks after the accident because I was so heavily drugged. But I remember saying to my mom one day, ‘Where’s Kyle? Where has he been?’ and she said, ‘Honey, you don’t remember? He’s been here every day.’ That felt really good,” said Michaela. “It was such a huge change, and everyone sort of expects that the significant other is going to peace out because it’s a lot to handle.”

But for Kyle, the accident never changed how he felt about Michaela.

“I never really thought about it. I already knew that we loved each other, and even though I hadn’t proposed, we already knew we were going to be together,” said Kyle. “It was never a question on my end of what I was going to do.”

Aside from Kyle’s support, Michaela credits her friends and professors in the School of Music for helping her adapt after her paralysis.

“Even before my accident, Ithaca was a dream school,” said Michaela. “I met the best people there that I can never thank enough, and the atmosphere was always one of community and family.”

Although the accident could have driven Kyle and Michaela apart, they agree that going through such a life-changing event together has only helped to bring them closer and make them appreciate each other more.

“All the trivial things that people get upset about or complain about are empty to us after the accident,” said Michaela. “All the stuff that might have upset us as young college students didn’t seem important anymore. We grew together that way.”