After motorcycle crash, Jacksonville man wants to help others the way he was helped at Shands Jacksonville

Matt Giannini doesn’t remember what caused his motorcycle to go off A.C. Skinner Parkway that August night in 2010, and the police report gives no indication.

He doesn’t remember his motorcycle hitting the first tree, throwing him into the air and then his head, in a helmet, ramming into the second tree.

Giannini, now 25, remembers coming to in a wooded area and hearing the cars on the nearby road, but knowing no one could see him.

He dragged himself to the side of the road, but he couldn’t feel his right arm. So Giannini lifted his cell phone into the air with his left arm, in hopes someone would see the light coming from the phone. Someone did.

Giannini was taken to the TraumaOne Trauma Center at Shands Jacksonville and treated for his injuries, including broken ribs, broken bones in his right arm and left leg, a collapsed lung and three fractured vertebrae. It was mostly a blur to Giannini, except for the mango frozen yogurt his friends brought by a few days after the accident.

But his full recovery would take months. Giannini had lost the use of his right hand, which he couldn’t move because three nerves were pulled out of his spinal cord during the accident.

Those nerves controlled Giannini’s right hand and arm, and because they were ripped out from the root, they couldn’t be repaired. He could use his shoulder and bend his elbow, but the rest of Giannini’s arm and hand wouldn’t move.

Life as Giannini knew it had changed. He couldn’t open jars, play video games or even tie his shoes. His parents helped in the beginning. So did his girlfriend. But he wanted to regain the use of his right arm.

Within weeks after the accident, Giannini began working with a team of therapists at Shands Jacksonville Rehabilitation Services. Occupational and physical therapist Elisabeth McGee began helping Giannini recover the use of his hand.

In the beginning, the focus was on decreasing the swelling in his fingers, which were twice their normal size. Range of motion exercises, stretches and special splints were used to loosen his stiff joints. He also learned how to function in adapted or modified ways as he awaited his follow-up surgery in November.

McGee, a certified hand therapist, helped Giannini strengthen the muscles in his right arm.

Then the muscles from his elbow and wrist were rerouted in the November surgery to replace the tendons in his fingers. When the surgery was over, Giannini began working with McGee to regain the use of his hand.

From the first day, McGee said Giannini always had a smile on his face. He didn’t complain. He just kept working harder.

“Matt has always had a good spirit,” McGee said.

And the hard work has paid off. He can tie his own shoelaces. He can button his shirts. And he can open a jar without the help of an automatic jar opener.

By spring, Giannini quickly picked up small screws, pens and other objects with little effort. A business card or a penny took a little more time, but Giannini didn’t give up.

“Compared to what I had, I think it’s like a new hand,” Giannini said. “I’m able to do most anything, except heavy lifting.”

Giannini has continued to get treatment on his left leg. But now he’s done with therapy sessions for his hand. His thoughts are about his long-term career goals.

Giannini once thought he wanted to be a teacher. He received his associate’s degree while he was in the hospital and plans to head back to college soon. But his plans have changed some.

Now he’s thinking he may want to go into physical therapy so he can help others, just as the people at Shands Jacksonville Rehabilitation Services helped him.