After barely surviving a fiery car crash on Boston’s Storrow Drive in August 2011, Muji Karim groggily emerged from three weeks in a medically-induced coma to find that he had sustained burns to 31 percent of his body, resulting in the loss of both of his legs and the four fingers of his left hand, as well as a myriad of additional injuries.
A former football star at the University of New Hampshire, 29-year-old Muji had recently started a new job in finance, and was looking forward to eventually doing some coaching of his own. Now, lying in his hospital bed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, he was facing a drastically altered future, and a long road to regaining strength, mobility, and independence. However, when he absorbed the extent of his injuries, Muji refused to give in to despair, and despite numerous surgeries and setbacks, was determined to pursue a fast track to recovery. After two months at BWH, Muji transferred to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, where his drive and willingness to work hard exceeded his medical team’s expectations.
“When I realized the severity of what had happened,” says Muji, “I thought, well, it’s bad, but it could be worse. I was still in a daze, and hadn’t had time to grieve, but I was thinking about the next step as opposed to what had happened.”
However, Muji’s multiple injuries made rehabilitation a challenging process. His therapists – Alyson Jodoin, PT and Jillian Poirier, OT - began by building his upper body and core strength from his bed, and worked with him on one-handed techniques. Then it was time to get moving again, with the help of a makeshift walker. His overwhelming motivation led to him to progress at a rapid pace. “Once you start seeing those gains, you see where you can end up,” he explains. “Having that mindset initially, and then going from standing up for the first time, to standing up for ten minutes, to taking a step, everything kept getting better.”
Muji eventually progressed to using two prosthetic legs. The left leg amputation is a mid-knee disarticulation, so there is a micro-processing component in the prosthetic’s knee. This computer sensing device assists with ambulation as a patient’s weight shifts off of it, telling the knee when to bend, when to put certain composites of resistance, and when to go lax and let the prosthesis swing. There are different settings for different activities, and at first, Muji stayed in the “safe” mode, as he had to learn his gait pattern all over again. He then branched out to the other more active settings. Comfortable now with his new legs, he was able to pass his driver’s test this spring.
Currently, Muji has a cosmetic prosthesis for his hand, but he is hoping that insurance will eventually cover a myoelectric prosthesis which would give him full range of motion to grasp and maneuver objects.
After getting discharged from Spaulding in February 2012, Muji moved into a new wheelchair accessible apartment. He is committed to reaching out to help others who also have undergone traumatic injuries. He is involved with the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, and has also met with survivors of the Boston Marathon bombings. “You have to endure a lot of pain, and self-doubt, and if you know that ahead of time, you can prepare yourself for it,” he says. “Laughter is a big part of healing and if you get them smiling and feeling good about themselves it goes a long way in the healing process.”