A Remarkable Spinal Cord Injury Story


Not everyone can recover from a three story fall. With the help of Benjamin Pence, DO, Physiatrist, and the comprehensive team at Renown Rehabilitation Hospital, Matt Checchi is now back to life as a college student in Reno.

On October 5, 2019, University of Nevada, Reno sophomore Matt Checchi had a serious fall causing a spinal cord injury. His parents, Michael and Lisa Checchi rushed from California to Renown Regional Medical to be by his side.

“My wife and I learned about Matthew’s accident on a phone call early Sunday morning October 6th about 7:30 in the morning. We didn’t have an idea really what was happening. From the Bay Area to Reno’s about three and a half hour drive and so we were just on hold that whole time. It was really our worst nightmare,” his dad shares.

“My apartment neighbors found me and then I had a six-hour surgery. When I woke up I don’t think I was really talking to anyone, I think I was just showing everyone how I could wiggle my toes,” Matt happily remembers.

Dr. Pence explains that Matt’s diagnosis was more promising than most. “Luckily he actually had an incomplete injury. He had a 50 to 60 percent chance of significant recovery.”

A Local Choice for Spinal Cord Injury Rehab 

Matt’s parents were considering out-of-state physical rehab options for his spinal cord injury. Ultimately they trusted he would receive excellent care locally at Renown Rehabilitation Hospital and decided to keep Matt close to his friends.

“We also looked at the option here just staying in Reno because of the very strong support system Matt had with his classmates. And he’s had over 20 classmates come and visit him. Many of them come every day,” explains Michael Checchi.

But even with signs of movement in his legs and a hopeful prognosis, it took hard work and determination for Matt to complete even the simplest tasks.

In fact, it took 45 minutes for him to get out of bed for the first time by himself. Sarah Porter recalls, “He did it and he did it by himself and it was just so encouraging to see and I think that joy he got, how empowered he felt from saying, “oh hey, I can do this by myself,” lead the rest of his therapy.”

Matt remembers, “I really didn’t want to do it. I didn’t think I could do it, but Sarah kept encouraging me and it happened.” This gave Matt the extra confidence to push his body throughout his recovery process.

Spinal Cord Injury Rehab – Real Life Tests

Sarah, a Neurologic Injury Specialist, gave him different challenges to overcome. “So when we’re in the rehab facility, we try to mimic real life as much as we can, so I had him texting on the treadmill.”

A special outing to a local pumpkin patch with his friends is a special memory for Matt. “I really appreciate them arranging that and all the time my therapists gave me,” he says. Sarah agrees it was a pivotal part in his recovery, “When we went to the pumpkin patch with his friends, I think he really wanted to show, ‘Hey I’m getting back to what I can do before.’ ”

Matt describes his physical rehabilitation as extremely challenging. “I have to work every day harder and harder. Probably one of the most challenging things I’ve had to do ever.”

“When you fall three stories, enough to completely shatter your vertebral body, your spine, it’s expected that you’re going to shake the head a little bit. His progression has been nothing less than a miracle,” expresses Dr. Pence.

September 2020 Update: Although Matt had to un-enroll at UNR for a semester he is now back to his studies. His advice to others going through physical rehab is: “There are a lot of hard parts. Listen to your therapists even if it sounds like something you can’t do.”

His protective body brace, the last reminder of his fall, came off in January. Looking back he says, “I’m grateful.”

Adds Matt’s mom: “Matt has had an amazing recovery due to the medical attention and rehabilitation he received at Renown.”

Related: Stroke Survival as a Warrior – Kimi’s Story

Renown Rehabilitation Hospital | 775-982-3500

Renown Rehabilitation Hospital is owned and operated by Renown South Meadows Medical Center. It is the region’s only hospital with certification by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). It is certified for:

  • Comprehensive Integrated Inpatient Rehabilitation Program
  • Stroke Specialty Program
  • Medical Rehabilitation Case Management

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