Amy Van Dyken Posts Positive Tweets, Instagram Photos, Thanks Fans for Prayers

( [email protected] ) Jun 12, 2014 10:37 AM EDT
Former Olympian Amy Van Dyken
Shortly after her accident, Amy Van Dyken posted this photo on Instagram with the caption,

Following a tragic accident that severed her spine, swimmer and six-time Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken appears to be in good spirits, posting a picture of Instagram of herself sitting up and smiling.

"Hello everyone. I cannot express how much your love and support are helping me. #blessyouall OneDayAtATime" read the caption.

"Doing great today," she later tweeted. "My room is the most decorated in ICU. Thx for ur thoughts & prayers!"

Van Dyken injured her vertebrae in an ATV accident earlier this week. After undergoing surgery, doctors stated that the former Olympian will likely suffer lower extremity paralysis, which may also affect her bladder and bowel function.

While she will likely be wheelchair bound, doctors say Van Dyken has every chance at going on to lead a full life post-injury. 

"If damage to the spinal cord is what we call 'complete,' then the prognosis is poor for recovery, but excellent for becoming totally self-sufficient in a wheelchair..." Dr. Kristjan T. Ragnarsson, professor and chairman of the department of rehabilitation medicine at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told "She has an excellent prospect of being generally healthy and living a good life."

However, experts say the full extent of her injuries may not yet be apparent.

"In terms of long-term disability, it can take months -- if not a year or two -- before you know where final neurologic recovery is going to be," said Dr. Zach Gordon, an orthopedic/spine surgeon at UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland. "Certainly, we like to see if there's any preserved sensation below the level of injury, if there's any sensation around the bottom or genitals ... or even better, if she has preserved sensation or flickers of motor activity in the legs, which means the injury is incomplete and has better potential for recovery than when there's no preserved sensation."

Dave Denniston, a friend of Van Dyken's and professional swimmer who fractured his vertebrae in a sledding accident several years ago, said the athlete will undergo weeks of therapy to rebuild strength and learn how to use a wheelchair..

"We're both swimmers and traditionally have big arms and big shoulders, strong arms strong upper body, so learning to use that, that's pretty easy and that transition takes a lot less time," Denniston told "She has a lot going for her."

Denniston now competes in the Paralympics in addition to coaching other Paralympic athletes. He said that a positive attitude is crucial to accepting life in a wheelchair-something he believes Van Dyken will do well.

"When you're in that situation ... you clearly see two different types of people: One is sitting in their room, feeling sorry, asking, 'Why me?' And they'll get through it, but it won't be pretty," Denniston said. "And then there's a much smaller group, and Amy falls in this category of, 'All right, there are a lot of opportunities here, this is a different way than I planned on living my life, but I can make the most of this.' Those are the ones who ... tend to progress the furthest after the injury."

Doctors maintain that the likelihood of Van Dyken' regaining some degree of function will depend on whether her spine was completely severed or simply suffered extreme bruising and damage.

However, because of Van Dyken's incredible athletic ability and determination, doctors are hopeful that her recovery will be swift.

"Athletes generally tend to be healthier than others," Ragnarsson said. "They certainly have the experience to work hard towards achieving a goal."