When the tables are turned, theis pediatrician finds comfort in "cliches."

The doctor becomes the patient

Life can change in the blink of an eye.  Small acts of kindness can mean the most.  It takes a village…

Pick the cliché, and it is likely that Dr. Dan Via has a new appreciation for how deeply those commonly used phrases can be felt.

The Williamsburg pediatrician was enjoying a vacation in the Outer Banks when the active 52 year-old caught a wave and fell off his boogie board head first into shallow water. Strangers on the beach pulled him from the water.

He was able to breathe, but Dan knew the seriousness of the situation because he could not feel nor move any parts of his body. 

The blink of an eye 

Local EMS responded, and the Sentara Nightingale Regional Air Ambulance flew Dan from a fire station to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. Surgeons determined that he had disrupted ligaments and ruptured a disc between C3 and C4 of his spine.  He had surgery to fuse his spine, but the severe nature of his injury and bruising of his spinal cord left physicians unsure about his prognosis. 

 “I heard them talking about me ‘maybe being able to feed’ myself or ‘possibly learn to walk again,’” says Dan.

That is a tough reality for someone active with a thriving pediatric medical practice, a wife and teenage children.

In the months that followed, Dan graduated from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and step down care at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital to a rehabilitation unit at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, then a Richmond rehabilitation center and a month long stay at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center. 

Small acts of kindness 

“The nurses and the caregivers in the ICU and CCU at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital were some of the first people to give me real hope that I might recover,” recalls Dan, who says that this experience has given him a new appreciation for all the professionals in healthcare, from physicians to nurses and aides.

Dan decided early on to be open to advice and suggestions at every stage of his journey. A change of attitude for someone who is used to being in the driver’s seat, Dan attributes his continuing recovery to the optimism, inspiration and encouragement of those around him.  

It takes a village 

Support came in many forms. Dan’s wife, a professor at William & Mary, took the fall semester off to help with his care. He describes her attitude as doggedly determined to stay positive. Dan received letters, cards, gifts and prayers from colleagues, friends and patients. While in Atlanta, other patients offered tremendous support.

Dan got back some movement back in his fingers and toes in the weeks following his surgery.  About one month after his accident, he fed himself with the use of a splint. Eventually, Dan began walking for up to 45 minutes with the use of a cane. He is back to riding a recumbent bike outdoors and can move freely in his house without any assistance devices. He continues his outpatient therapy in Williamsburg and he sees his own patients at Sentara Pediatric Physicians.

“I was lucky to have the type of injury I had,” Dan shares, “and I know this experience will translate to me being more open and understanding.”


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