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The J therapists helped Abramson recover from fall

Les Abramson was at his cousin’s house in September 2015 searching for a light switch in the dark when he tumbled down the stairs.

“If I close my eyes, I can still think about that sensation of flying through the air,” he said. “I went down 17 steps.”

At the bottom of the stairs, he didn’t realize quite how bad his injuries were. “I tried to get up. When I sat up, things we’re swirling around like you’d see in a comic strip. So, I lay back down.”

After EMTs and firefighters got him back up the stairs and to the hospital, he learned two vertebrae in his neck were broken. His two front teeth were broken off and his nose and one finger were broken. He also had several abrasions on his face.

“The fact that the stairs were carpeted was probably the only reason I wasn’t paralyzed,” he said.

Luckily, he didn’t need surgery and only spent three days in the hospital.

His recovery wasn’t easy. He had to wear a cervical collar for three months to immobilize his neck while it healed, and he went back to work nine days after his accident. A law professor at the University of Louisville, Abramson felt he shouldn’t make someone else take over his class.

“At that time, I hadn’t had the new false teeth put back in so I sounded like Sylvester the Cat! ‘Sufferin’ succotash.’ I had this huge gap. There were some words I’d try to say, and air was just flying out,” he said with a laugh.

He had to learn his body’s abilities all over again, and The J played a major part in that recovery.

“Sometimes, when you first hurt yourself, you’re not sure what you can do,” Abramson, 70, said. “Some of the things we take for granted are things like sneezing. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to have some sort of whiplash. So, I would just kind of brace myself.

“And reaching for things,” he continued. “They told me I wasn’t supposed to lift anything more than 10 pounds. I did one time, and I realized why they said that; it strains your neck. You have to be very stiff and follow directions.”

Abramson’s sense of humor and work ethic helped him recover. Once his neck brace came off, he began physical therapy, which mostly involved stretching exercises and pulling resistance bands, he said, trying to “reacquaint my neck with the rest of myself.”

The Jewish Community Center has been a major part of Abramson’s life for decades. He took physical education classes at the YMHA on Jacob Street in the early 1950s. When the JCC moved to its current location in 1955, he played baseball and basketball and was active in youth groups during high school.

He later joined the JCC Board of Directors and served as treasurer and vice president. Through those years, he became friends with people from older and younger generations, and he learned the value of the JCC for many purposes.

While he was been involved with the JCC since childhood, he became more active in recent years after having a knee replacement. He would use the leg press and walk around the track to keep his knee strong and flexible.

Shortly after his neck brace came off, he began working with The J Personal Trainer Ryan Perryman a couple times a week.

Because of Abramson’s multiple injuries, including his knee, Perryman said he had to find different ways to approach his training. He didn’t want to put too much strain on his neck, so he decided unilateral training was the best approach.

Having the neck brace on so long weakened the muscles in his neck, so Perryman helped him regain that strength.

“I gave him one-arm movements instead of a bilateral movement, or it would put too much stress on the shoulder girdle and stress his neck out,” Perryman explained. “And you’re not going to lift as much weight that way, so it’s a little easier for him. … He won’t have all the musculature activated at the same time, and it won’t overstress the neck.”

Over the course of a few months, Abramson’s neck gained back its strength, and he resumed normal activity, albeit with caution.

“You just become more guarded,” he said. “Going down steps, you grab for any rail or banister. You can’t take anything for granted. You try not to do any moon walk imitations.”

Perryman enjoyed working with Abramson. “He’s a stand-up guy,” he said. “He’s funny, a great wit. We always have intelligent conversations when I talk with him.”

For Abramson, The J was more than just a place to work out.

“One of the ways the JCC helped me was the socialization,” he said. “You see people every day and you say hello to them, and some people just laugh and say, ‘What did you do this time?’”

Seeing the same people over time helped him measure his progress, he said. Having someone say, “I think you’re doing that better” or “You’re moving better” helped him feel better about his healing.

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