Aquacare picks us up when we are down

Family discusses two years of spinal rehabilitation
May 2, 2023

In January 2021, Katherine and Damian Birl got the type of call every parent dreads. Their son was in an accident while snowboarding in Pennsylvania, and they needed to go to the hospital.

“Every thought and no thoughts at all go through your brain at the same time,” Katherine said. “It was the longest three-hour car ride, and the whole time I just kept asking my friends to pray for Gavin. I could almost feel the swell of prayer as we were driving.”

Gavin suffered multiple broken ribs and a spinal cord injury. While he was in Pennsylvania, friends in Delaware jumped into action setting up fundraisers, prayer chains and meals. They sent cards, gifts, and most importantly, love from Delaware (and around the world) to Gavin and the Birl family.

“It was truly incredible. We got so many cards, even one from Australia, and others from people we didn’t even know,” Katherine said. “I was a wreck, but the support and love we received from the community was awe-inspiring.”

After months in the hospital and rehab facilities, with multiple surgeries, Gavin returned home to continue his rehabilitation.

“When we were looking for a place for physical therapy, we knew we wanted to find a team that would support us and be there for us,” Katherine said. “We found it the very first time we walked through the doors at Aquacare.”

And the chance for Gavin to get in a pool was a bonus; before the accident, he was the quintessential Lewes beach kid, spending his days surfing and skimboarding.

For two years, Gavin has worked with Mark Bogle, PTA, at Aquacare Lewes on Route 24.

“I always did sports before, so now coming [to Aquacare] for physical therapy is like my sport,” Gavin said. “I enjoy being in the pool and many of the exercises I do here.”

There are, of course, certain movements that Gavin isn’t so fond of, he said with a chuckle.

From the very first session, Mark has developed a methodical exercise program for Gavin, focusing on engaging the core and strengthening muscles.

“The first thing for me is building that trust and that relationship,” Mark said. “I tell Gavin I would never let you try something that I know you aren’t capable of doing. My method is to develop exercises and movements that will help him reach his goals.”

Day by day and month by month, Gavin and Mark work through repetitions of exercises, gradually increasing the difficulty. Then, as a treat, Mark may go back to an old exercise to help Gavin see the progress he has made.

“Gavin shows us every day. He’s positive, relentless and he never complains,” Mark said. “It’s inspiring to see that at such a young age.”

Katherine agrees. “Even at the beginning, he was just incredible with his attitude,” she said.

Gavin, now 18 and a senior at Cape Henlopen High School, has found hidden talents since the accident. He has launched a photography business, using both a camera and a drone. He takes photos of his friends while they surf or snaps shots of the beach and local sights.  

“Just before the accident, I received the drone as a gift. I only used it once during a trip in Puerto Rico,” Gavin said. “Now, one of my favorite things to do is go out and take drone photos.”

He’s also started a pickle business. “It was my brother’s thing at first, but I just got hooked,” he said. He sells them at his parents’ restaurant, Smokin D’z, and at a few other local restaurants. Gavin’s friends, his brother Collin and his sister Sophia have learned a lot since Gavin’s accident.

“We have such a good team for Gavin. His story and the way he can see the good side has really resonated with so many people,” Katherine said. “They all stand by him and support him … and I think this all has really changed so many lives.”

Aquacare has been serving Delaware and Maryland communities for 25 years as a women-owned and physical-therapist-owned company. Its 10 locations offer a wide variety of gym-based and aquatic physical therapy specialties, including orthopedic rehabilitation, lymphedema management, pelvic floor therapy, balance and fall-prevention programs, LSVT BIG program for Parkinson’s, dry needling and more.

“The first day we came into Aquacare, the team was wearing Gavin Strong T-shirts. We just knew they were the right team for us,” Katherine said. “Even on bad days, we know we can count on our Aquacare family to pick us up when we are down.”

To learn more about Aquacare or to schedule an appointment, go to

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