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Walking away from tragedy

How a Park Nicollet physical therapist helped a 35W bridge collapse survivor get back on her feet

By Lori Powell-Knutson, PT
August 9, 2017

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Aug. 1, 2007 was a day that changed many people’s lives forever. One of those people was my friend Paula Coulter.

Paula and her family were driving on the 35W bridge that day, going to meet her sisters and their families for dinner. She was sitting behind her husband in the backseat, dozed off for a few minutes, and woke up more than a month later in a hospital.

The bridge collapsed while they were on it. The car flipped upside down and was crushed. Fortunately, Paula’s husband and daughters were able to get out of the car with minimal injuries. Paula was not as lucky.

She would suffer injuries to her brain and spine, among others. In total, Paula has had between 40 and 45 surgeries in the past 10 years. She had to re-learn how to walk.

Paula and I knew each other because our daughters played soccer together in Burnsville. When I saw her at our daughters’ soccer banquet, I told her she could come work with me at Park Nicollet when she was ready for physical therapy.

In January 2008, we started working together in outpatient therapy. And I was able to get her up and walking, moving and gaining back her strength.

One thing that was unique about Paula was that she developed a condition called Heterotopic Ossification (HO). This is when the body begins to lay down extra bone around the hips. This can be very painful and difficult to manage, so a lot of what we worked on was very specific to Paula’s needs.

One thing I learned about Paula is that she is a very determined woman. She’s driven, and worked very hard to reach her goals. In fact, she ended up running the Dan Patch 5K that same year.

I am very proud to call Paula a friend. We have family get-togethers, and spend time together as friends, while still working together on physical therapy.

To know Paula and watch her get back on her feet and achieve her goals is very inspiring. Doctors weren’t sure she was going to live after the accident. But she is an amazing person, and a great example of how hard work and a strong mind can overcome the toughest challenges. I’m proud to have been able to play a role in her recovery, and to offer the encouragement and extra push to help her go farther.

About Lori Powell-Knutson, PT

Lori Powell-Knutson is a physical therapist with our Park Nicollet Burnsville Clinic. She has been with Park Nicollet since 1987. Lori specializes in spine, general orthopedic conditions, sport-related injuries, pelvic floor dysfunction, TMJ disorders and neurological rehabilitation. She enjoys working with patients through exercise, manual therapy and functional movement patterns to return them to their desired level of activity. In her free time, she enjoys tennis, golf, cycling, gardening and traveling with her husband and 3 children. Lori has helped patients recover from some very catastrophic injuries. She says she believes the human body is capable of doing just about whatever a person sets their mind to.

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