Monarch Physical Therapy Helped ODU Alums after Devastating Crash
Cynthia Faschini describes her 33-year marriage to Andy Wallach as a "fairy tale."
Both are successful businesspeople, Navy veterans and graduates of Old Dominion University. Andy runs Wallach Planning & Investments. They've traveled to Europe, the Caribbean and all over the United States and often entertain a wide range of friends.
But their lives changed forever in December 2019, when the ATV he was driving while on vacation in Aruba crashed. After two months of surgeries and hospitalization in Florida, they were told Andy would never walk again and had a 50 percent chance of living a year.
Those doctors didn't know Andy's and Cynthia's determination and commitment to each other and how their prayers would be answered by miracles.
Perhaps the biggest miracle occurred last October, nine months after the accident, when Andy began treatment at ODU's Monarch Physical Therapy. He is again walking, with the aid of a walker. They're back to hosting parties, bowling and planning vacations, including a trip to Cancun and a cruise in the Pacific.
In gratitude, Andy and Cynthia will donate $2 million to the therapy clinic in the new Health Sciences Building, which is scheduled to open in the summer of 2023.
The clinic will be named the Faschini Wallach Center for Restorative Therapies. It will be staffed by physical as well as occupational therapists, who have made a huge contribution to Andy's recovery.
"The clinic has dramatically changed our lives," Cynthia said. "What they've done has been miraculous."
Lisa Koperna, the director of Monarch Physical Therapy, said their gift will help provide "more comprehensive rehabilitation and post-rehab services."
"They are ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help others," she said.
The story of their last year and a half is also extraordinary. It's about a marriage that has grown stronger in spite of Andy's terrible injuries, Cynthia's steadfast care of her husband, Andy's dogged determination to walk again, and those little miracles that seemed to happen when they most needed them.
The crash in Aruba left Cynthia with a broken femur in her leg. She was the lucky one.
Andy broke his left leg in three places; the compound fractures were so bad that it his leg was practically severed. For weeks, doctors considered amputating before deciding to give his leg a chance to heal. He tore the rotator cuff in his right arm and had a broken finger.
Nobody knew it at the time, but he also suffered a spinal cord injury which severely reduced his ability to move his legs.
The first miracle happened immediately after the crash. A group of nurses and an EMT were also driving ATVs and stopped to administer first aid. Cynthia was later told that if they had not arrived, Andy almost surely would have died.
Andy's son, Josh Wallach, a master lecturer and associate dean of ODU's College of Sciences, immediately flew to Aruba. He called TriCare, which flew his father the next day to a trauma center in Fort Lauderdale, where he underwent several surgeries to repair his legs and back. Cynthia's recovery was simpler, and she soon was at her husband's side, along with Josh and Andy's daughter, Jenny.
From there, Andy was moved to the Acute Spinal Care Rehab Center at McGuire Veterans Administration Hospital in Richmond after being rejected by several other centers.
His prognosis wasn't great. He couldn't walk or stand. And because he had been intubated for months, the already slender Wallach lost a lot of weight.
But it helped that Andy, like his wife, follows a plant-based diet and exercised regularly. "Doctors say had Andy not been in such good physical condition, he would not have fared as well," Cynthia said.
Andy made good progress in 12 weeks in Richmond, aided by physical therapist Peter DiSalvo, a 2015 ODU graduate, and returned to his Norfolk home in a wheelchair.
Last September, Andy and Cynthia toured Monarch Physical Therapy and were enthused about getting back to work.
Then came another setback: Andy was diagnosed with sepsis and a urinary tract infection. He also developed MRSA, a dangerous infection. And doctors discovered that his lower leg bones had never healed. He was hospitalized for 10 days, during which new rods were inserted in his leg.
When Andy began physical and occupational therapy at ODU, the only way to get him out of bed was with a ceiling lift. "His right leg would not function at all," said Maggie Cody, a 2020 ODUdoctoral recipient who is Andy's lead physical therapist.
His recovery has been aided by a machine called REX. Monarch Physical Therapy has one of only six REX machines in the country.
It's a high-tech pair of bionic legs - an exoskeleton of sorts - powered electrically. Essentially, it allowed Andy's body to go through the motions of walking before he was able to do so. In the process, his muscles began to relearn how to function, and the machine might also encourage damaged nerves to revive their connections.
Just as important as the technology have been the people.
Cody, the lead physical therapist, mixes kindness with tough love, sometimes barking at him to stay on task.
Near the end of a session one Friday afternoon, Andy was walking down a hallway with his walker when he reached his goal, a water fountain.
"Keep going," Cody said firmly, as she made sure his legs were properly positioned.
"But this was our goal," he replied.
"But don't you want to go past it?"
He closed his eyes, his face twisted in a grimace, and kept going.
Occupational therapists, or OTs, who help prepare patients to resume daily activities, have also played a key role.
His OTs work on strengthening his hands and hand-eye coordination and tasks such as getting in and out of bed. During one exercise, he clasped a vice grip, wincing with pain.
But he rarely loses his sense of humor.
When Andy finished assembling a fake set of silverware, dishes and glasses, he picked up the tray, bowed and said, "Madame, I'm your waiter." Cynthia and occupational therapist Donna Gorman burst out laughing.
Andy and Cynthia have also been impressed with the doctoral students.
"I love the students," he said. "They want you to get better. They are so enthusiastic about their work that it makes you want to come here."
Andy and Cynthia are up by 6 a.m. and don't go to bed until 9 or 10 p.m. They go to Monarch Physical Therapy three or four days a week, two hours each time. Andy also has a stationary bike, hand bike and hand weights at home and works out four hours a day.
He's also working out twice a week at the ODU Student Recreation Center.
Cynthia prepares meals, helps dress and bathe her husband and takes care of all of the appointments, medications and anything else that needs doing.
"I mean, she has no life of her own," Andy said, his eyes tearing up. "My life is her life. She's my guardian angel.
"I would not be alive without her. And I mean that literally."
Cynthia smiled and clasped his hand.
Cody said she's awed by the care Cynthia gives her husband.
"Cynthia's incredibly supportive," Cody said. "He works hard here, but he really works at home. That's what makes the difference."
So does Andy's unshakable drive.
"It's remarkable what he's done," Josh said. "Not a lot of people could go through what he's been through and not be devastated. I'm so amazed at how much pain he goes through and how much drive he has."
Koperna said she's impressed by Andy's determination not just to recover, but also to help heal others.
One morning, he stopped to speak with John Perry, a Virginia Beach man in a wheelchair who broke his neck after jumping into a pool on Father's Day in 2020. Like Andy, he has an incomplete break and doesn't know how far his recovery will take him.
"John's been making great progress," Andy said. "It takes a lot of fricking determination to get better, and not a lot of people have that determination, but John does."
After a 10-minute conversation, Andy left John with a smile on his face.
Koperna said Andy and Cynthia have lifted up many other patients.
"Somebody could be standing on the parallel bars," she said, "and Andy will notice that something is different with that person. He'll ask, 'What's going on?' and try to offer good advice.
"And they not only help people at our clinic; they network with people who have had catastrophic injuries and are helping them, too.
"Andy's recovery is a testament to the power of love, medicine, miracles and teamwork."
Koperna said their donation will also help the clinic establish support groups for those, unlike Andy, who aren't surrounded with the love and support of family members and friends.
"We hope the programs they will start will help give people hope, give guidance, hopefully kindle some drive in them," Cynthia said.
These days, Andy is walking with walker and sometimes even cheating - getting up on his own and walking without someone at his side. He is standing without assistance and his muscle tone is returning.
"He's going to walk again," Cody said. "He's going to do it. He's so determined."
Andy and Cynthia believe that, too. "He never wakes up and says, 'I just want to stay in bed and do nothing,'" Cynthia said. "That's not Andy."
When the new Health Sciences Building opens, Andy said he will walk through the front door, without a walker and with Cynthia by his side.
"Our life has been amazing," Cynthia said. "We're very fortunate that we had a great relationship before the accident, and I can tell you that it has intensified into an amazing bond that very few people in a lifetime will have.
"I still live in a fairy tale. It's just a different fairy tale."