POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Seven years after a crash that threatened the use of most of his body, a Polk State College student is preparing for a career helping spinal cord injury survivors like him.

“This is to prevent any movement,” Chase Roberts said about a splint he was fitting in a lab on the Polk State College campus.

His plan did not always involve occupational therapy.

In his mid 20s, Roberts was a restaurant manager in Lakeland and Winter Haven. Then, in 2016, he was hit by another car while driving to a concert in Orlando.

“My paralytic line was just above my collarbone,” he said. “You’re just immediately not able to move anything below your jaw and it’s just very scary – what’s gonna happen? Nobody has any solid answers until they get inside there and see what’s going on.”

Doctors were preparing him for the possibility he may never walk again.

“A friend of mine told me to wiggle my toe and I did and he said, ‘he’s doing this on command!’” he recalled.

Source: Polk State College

From there, Roberts began physical and occupational therapies at Orlando Health Regional Medical Center Institute for Advanced Rehabilitation. After seven weeks, he left on his own two feet with a new set of goals for the rest of his life.

“For me it was a little bit altruistic and a little bit selfish because I wanted to be able to treat myself,” he admits.

Occupational therapy, with its origins in mental health, helps people learn how to complete tasks customized to their own lives. It can include sessions on how to take clothes out of the washing machine or get out of bed.

“It’s all about their level of independence,” he said.

After studying previously at Polk State College, Roberts enrolled in the college’s occupational therapy assistance program.

He has been completing his clinical rotation back at the facility where he learned how to walk again, the Orlando Health Regional Medical Center Institute for Advanced Rehabilitation.

His experience has already made an impact on his patients.

“I had a kind of heart-to-heart with a patient just last week,” he said. “I sat down with him and I said, ‘hey man, I’ve been through what you’re going through and I’m gonna tell you right now, your best bet is to try to push through it.’”

That day, that man put shorts on for the first time since his injury, a step towards independence Roberts knows about all too well.

“I love being there for them going through that because I know what it’s like to sit there and not be able to use the bathroom on your own,” he said.

Roberts will complete his studies at Polk State College in November and then continue his career at Orlando Health Regional Medical Center.