80-year-old man who suffered severe back injury makes full recovery at Jackson Memorial and Lynn Rehabilitation Center

By: Krysten Brenlla

While Thomas DeRita, 80, has always enjoyed an active lifestyle, the Palm Beach local and lobbyist is not a stranger to Jackson, having undergone successful knee surgeries at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

One day, while exploring land for a solar project in West Virginia, he fell off the golf cart he was riding, breaking his collarbone and severely injuring his back.

“I returned to Florida after that accident and had to undergo a resection on the collarbone,” DeRita said. “My doctor took one look at my X-rays and said, ‘You have really hurt your back.’”

DeRita was diagnosed with lumbar spondylosis, or age-related degeneration of the vertebrae and disks of the lower back. He decided to give himself some time to recover on his own. Nevertheless, two weeks after his accident, he fell in the shower, which made his back injury worse.

“That fall really precipitated the need for more X-rays, and ultimately, back surgery,” he said.

After interviewing several spine surgeons across Palm Beach, DeRita decided to come back to Miami and check out the UHealth Jackson Neurosurgery team.

One meeting with Michael Yung-Shun Wang, MD, a UHealth neurosurgeon at Jackson Memorial, and he knew he found the best place and surgeon.

“I met with three different spine surgeons, but when we met with Dr. Wang, it was a whole different circumstance,” DeRita said. “Dr. Wang brought more to the table – he had a sense of humor and was very knowledgeable. I knew I’d be in the best hands by coming back to Jackson and UHealth.”

On January 17, 2024, DeRita underwent a successful spinal fusion procedure in the lower back, performed by Dr. Wang.

He spent five days at Jackson Memorial recovering before being transferred to Christine E. Lynn Rehabilitation Center for The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at UHealth/Jackson Memorial for rehabilitation therapy.

Prior to surgery, DeRita could only walk one block before needing to stop. Additionally, when he first arrived at Lynn Rehabilitation Center after the procedure, he was bedridden and struggled to get in and out of his bed.

However, after two weeks in rehabilitation therapy, DeRita greatly improved.

“It takes a lot of hard work to relearn how to move with spine precautions – no bending, twisting, or lifting,” said Ashley Wilcock, a physical therapist at Lynn Rehabilitation Center. “But Thomas was great and was super motivated. We focused on helping him move by using different techniques, with a goal to train him how to perform functional mobility activities as independently and safely as possible.”

For two weeks, DeRita’s physical therapy team helped him learn how to safely get in and out of bed, transfer from one surface to another, brace management, and walk with and without an assistive device. Additionally, DeRita’s occupational therapy team helped him adapt to daily tasks, such as eating, grooming, dressing, bathing, food preparation, housekeeping, medication management, and using the car simulator at Lynn Rehabilitation Center.

When he was discharged on February 6, DeRita went from needing a wheelchair to walking on his own around the building and outside. He was also able to climb up and down stairs – which was an essential goal for him to be able to go inside his home – walk with a home walking program, and transfer into his car and drive with no issues.

“I’ve had quite a few surgeries with rehabilitation therapy involved, and I’ve never had therapy like I had at Lynn Rehabilitation Center,” DeRita said. “They never hesitated to support me. They work in union and push you in a way that makes you want to push yourself even harder.”

Today, he is back at work and continues to receive rehabilitation therapy at home. He credits the teams at Jackson, Lynn Rehabilitation Center, and UHealth for helping him rebuild his strength and reach his full potential.

“There’s not enough ways to say thank you,” DeRita said. “Everyone has to come down to Miami to see Lynn Rehabilitation Center – to see the aquatic therapy pool, the research, and how the team works together to help patients get better – it’s an amazing facility.”

Michael Wang, MD

Neurological Surgery