Zay Brown walks out of Bartram Campus hospital after a spinal cord injury surrounded by his recovery team

Turning Goals Into Reality: Zay Brown Walks After a Spinal Cord Injury

Patient Experience

Dec 12, 2023

Author: Erin Bak
Last Updated: December 12, 2023

August 13, 2023, began as a normal workday for Isaiah “Zay” Brown. As a construction worker, Zay worked various types of projects. This particular morning, he was heading to a school in Sylvania, Ga., to repair a ceiling fire sprinkler system. He never made it home that night.

Zay was using a forklift to reach the sprinkler system on the 26-feet ceiling. On his descent, the machine touched a live, hanging wire that sent a 270-volt shock through his entire body. Zay fell to the ground.

He doesn’t remember much after the initial accident because his heart stopped three different times. He eventually woke up at Memorial Health in Savannah, Ga., paralyzed from the chest down. He would later find out that he sustained a traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI). He ruptured his L5 vertebrae, experienced short-term memory loss and lost feeling in his left arm.

Zay spent seven days in the intensive care unit and over a month in acute care at Memorial Health. Searching for a place to continue his recovery, Zay was referred to Brooks Rehabilitation in Jacksonville, Fla.

A New Normal at Brooks 

When Zay arrived at Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital – Bartram Campus to start rehabilitation for his spinal cord injury, he was struggling to understand his new normal.

“My first couple of days at Brooks were rough,” said Zay. “I was trying to figure out why this happened to me. I wanted to give up and it really was just a hard time. Then, I met Amy and the team. They made me into a believer.”

Amy Gibbes, PT, is a physical therapist for Brooks’ Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program.  She remembers the first time she walked into Zay’s hospital room.

“We could tell Zay had so much potential. He is such a hard worker. He has a great attitude and he has a heart of gold,” said Gibbes.

Signs of Recovery

With the help of Gibbes and his entire therapy team, Zay began to see gains in his SCI recovery. As he began making physical improvements, his mindset slowly began to change.

Activities like cooking during recreational therapy brought him joy instead of dread. He eventually became so good at it that his therapy team begged him to cook for them every day. Not only was his mental health improving, but he also began to create meaningful relationships with the therapists, nurses and doctors. He was determined to keep moving forward.

In fact, he was so determined that he set a goal to walk out of the hospital using a walker, something that a month earlier would’ve been impossible.

Zay Brown in a wheelchair with his therapists at Brooks Bartram Hospital campus.

“They told me I was going to have to be in a wheelchair for a long period of time and it would be two to three years before I would be able to walk again,” said Zay. “I kept praying and working toward my goal of being able to walk out of here. The entire team at Bartram was dedicated to helping me reach that goal.”

Achieving His Walking Goal

After almost two months of rigorous therapy sessions, perseverance and hard work, the day finally arrived for Zay to leave Brooks’ hospital. Overwhelmed with emotions and surrounded by his entire Bartram team, he walked out of the hospital using only his walker.

“Zay became one of the family at Brooks! He put in the work and never gave up. Everyone was so excited to work with him to reach his goal and celebrate with him as he walked out with his walker to “ring the bell” before he left,” said Gibbes.

Continued Intensive Spinal Cord Injury Rehab Program

After spending time home in Georgia, Zay realized he wasn’t receiving the same level and quality of therapy. He returned to Jacksonville to continue his SCI recovery at the Brooks Neuro Recovery Center.

When his Bartram hospital team heard he returned and was staying at Helen’s House, Brooks’ family housing, they all joined him for dinner.

Zay Brown pictured with his clinician team at Helen's House where he is staying during his continued SCI rehab.

Zay will soon participate in Brooks’ Spinal Cord Injury & Related Disorders Day Treatment Program, an outpatient rehabilitation program designed to provide intense therapy for patients who have had a SCI or similar neurologic disorder. The SCI program is overseen by a medical director and the interdisciplinary team includes a physical therapistoccupational therapistspeech therapist, psychologist and a nurse case manager, all with specialized training in spinal cord injuries.

Zay also hopes to serve as a peer mentor to other people who have gone through a traumatic injury.

When asked for any advice for people in a similar situation as him, Zay said, “stay motivated, block out the negative thoughts, keep God first and anything is possible.”


Erin Bak

Marketing Specialist, Brooks Rehabilitation
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