I’ll Be Back
Store manager shot in armed robbery vows to return to work and family after completing rehabilitation for a spinal cord injury.
Written By David Simpson
Photography By Louie Favorite
When he puts his hand on his side, Albert McDuffie can feel the armed robber’s bullet resting just beneath his skin.
“I don’t even think I’m going to take it out,” says Albert, 31, of Washington, D.C. “It’s just something that happened. I don’t look at it as a bad thing. I just look at it as a life-changer.”
Life changed for Albert on April 13, 2012 at the Rite-Aid drug store he managed in D.C. He complied with an intruder’s demand that he open the cash drawer, but Albert was shot anyway. The bullet ruptured his spleen, nicked a kidney and sprayed bone debris into his spinal cord. (The robbery was caught on video, and police arrested a suspect soon afterward.)
A T-11 incomplete spinal cord injury paralyzed Albert from the waist down. After receiving acute care at Washington Hospital Center, Albert’s workers’ compensation carrier referred him to Shepherd Center. He was admitted on April 25, and attentive care started within minutes of his arrival, he recalls.
“I met doctors, nurses, therapists, the counselor who then saw me every day,” Albert says. “I’m lying in the bed, and I’ve got probably eight to 10 people in my room with me. Everybody introduced themselves and put their name on the board. That stuck with me right there because it let me know I was in a caring facility.”
His treatment began with therapists stretching his legs. He couldn’t feel anything, but on the third or fourth day, there was a “flicker” in his right thigh.
“I didn’t see it, but my occupational therapist saw it, and my aunt saw it,” Albert says. “I was like ‘What happened?’ and I looked down and saw it. I was like ‘Wow!’ That put a smile on my face.”
He learned to use a wheelchair, but he was determined to walk. He tackled that goal in Shepherd’s day program, moving to an apartment in the adjacent Woodruff Family Residence Center with his mother just a month after arriving at the hospital.
Before long, Albert was on the parallel bars doing what he calls “the Frankenstein walk.” He started walking slowly and stiff-legged like the movie monster because of long braces to help support his weight. And like the monster, he got an electrical boost from an electrical stimulation device called the Bioness L300 Plus.
“I have electrodes connected to my right leg – two attached to my thigh and a sensor in my left foot,” he explains. “So when I take a step with my left foot, it knows my right foot is back. It knows to trigger the electrode to tense the muscle.”