In June 2004, before her senior year of high school, Jessica Harthcock was practicing her diving at a local gymnastics facility. The Memorial High School student was diving into a pit of foam blocks when she hit her head on the side of the pit, cracking her skull and severely injuring her spinal cord.
The injury resulted in paralysis from the chest down. Doctors told her she’d never walk again. Harthcock (then Jessica Greenfield) wasn’t going to accept that diagnosis. But it took years of searching to find the people who helped get her back on her feet.
Now, Harthcock is helping other people going through the same struggles. She’s founded Utilize Health in Nashville, Tennessee, which helps connect patients with neurological injuries or conditions to the right medical and rehabilitation facilities and therapies.
“Our goal is to get our patients a better quality of life,” she says. “Right now, we’re focused specifically on neurological disabilities, but in the next year we’ll expand into other patient populations, including autism and different types of cancer.”
In 2013, Harthcock was profiled in USA Today. That brought in a flood of phone calls and emails, too many for the startup company to handle. So Utilize Health launched a pilot program with 100 people in January 2014.
Harthcock personally paired those patients with rehabilitation facilities. The success of that program led to more media attention, which led to investors. A crowdfunding campaign this year raised nearly $40,000, allowing Utilize Health to build a new website, which can match patients much more quickly. It will go live later this year.
“We give people the information they need to make the best decisions about their care,” says Harthcock. “That is something I never had. It took me years to get that information.”
Utilize Health does not charge for the matching process. The company does offer a subscription patient advocate service, where the company helps facilitate rehabilitation appointments and insurance payments.
Harthcock spent time at rehabilitation facilities in Louisville and Chicago while taking online classes at the University of Southern Indiana. She then followed one of her former trainers, Adam Harthcock — her then-boyfriend, now her husband — to Louisiana State University where he was a strength coach for the football team.
As Harthcock finished her undergraduate classes at LSU and afterward, she continued to make gradual progress and was finally being able to walk unassisted. She has no sensation below the spinal injury. Doctors remain uncertain why it’s possible for her to walk.
For more information on Utilize Health, visit utilizehealth.com.