Steve Ashley Story

In 1972, a devastating event left 21-year-old Steve Ashley completely disabled, suffering from locked-in syndrome and rendered him cognitively intact but dependent on a ventilator, unable to move his body, speak, or even breathe on his own. Conventional medicine and available rehabilitative therapies gave Steve no hope for significant recovery or regaining an independent life.

As the brother of Dr. Mark J. Ashley, Centre for Neuro Skills Founder and President, Steve provided a personal opportunity for Dr. Ashley to demonstrate that significant rehabilitation was possible after completion of acute care. People locked inside the physical prison of brain injury could be given the keys to freedom through an intense program of therapy, rather than just care.

Eight years after his injury, Steve became one of the first CNS patients. His recovery became the model for CNS’ ongoing philosophy of practice. Daily intensive therapy revealed Steve’s unique physical and emotional needs and abilities. He needed to be functionally independent. He wanted to master basic living skills such as eating, turning himself in bed, using his voice, and moving his body–all skills that doctors said Steve would never be able to grasp. Most importantly, Steve needed to be treated with dignity and respect.

After months of successes and setbacks, celebration and frustration, Steve Ashley found a new life. He learned how to speak, to drive his electric wheel chair, to use the bathroom, to feed himself, and to live alone in his own home. He even got married. With CNS’ unique approach to therapy, he returned to society, and to himself.

At CNS, every patient is a Steve Ashley. Our bias for action is doing whatever it takes to return patients to the highest level of independence possible. We believe that most survivors of brain injury—given the right therapy at the right time by experienced, involved professionals—can do more. People with brain injury can regain a normal rhythm of living. This is the great lesson that Steve taught us.

Every family has a turning point, and Steve’s journey from devastation to rehabilitation was an epiphany for the Ashleys. It galvanized a belief that people with brain injuries should have a place to heal, and that Dr. Ashley and his family could provide this essential service.

Each family’s “moment” holds the promise of transforming tragedy into triumph. Fortunately for CNS, that moment inspired the founders to help all people who have endured the unthinkable.