Patient Stories

How Rehab Gets Personal

3 Ways Rehab Is Building Lasting Bonds

Physical medicine and rehabilitation has been a medical specialty since it first rose to prominence treating veterans of the Second World War, but the practice of using physical therapy to restore function and independence has been around much longer.

Therapy and rehab are appropriate treatments and follow-up care for a number of acute and chronic conditions, including stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury, amputation, neuromuscular disorders and musculoskeletal and orthopaedic conditions. But the breadth of conditions covered by physical medicine doesn’t mean all treatment is covered the same way and physical therapists do more for their patients than lead the way to physical recovery.

Due to the nature of the care, physical medicine and rehabilitation is one of the most personal forms of medical treatment and the bonds that develop between care team and patient can last long past recovery.

Here are three such stories of patients and care teams building back more than muscle at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, part of Northwestern Medicine.

When Learning to Walk is for Walking Down the Aisle

Brennan slipped off a ladder not long before his wedding, breaking his spine and neck in three places. In the emergency department, he told his fiancé Lisa that he still wanted to walk down the aisle on their wedding date. Brennan was referred to Marianjoy where he was fitted with a full-torso brace to stabilize his back and neck and was led through physical and occupational therapies. While he experienced setbacks, Brennan kept his wedding day in mind and his determination helped him recover well.

“Brennan had such an optimistic outlook and persevering spirit that directly impacted his recovery,” said Vanessa Flaherty, PT, DPT, Brennan’s physical therapist. “It was amazing to see how well he was moving around, considering all the trauma and pain he was experiencing.”

After one week of physical therapy, Brennan was able to walk. But his care team was already preparing him for his next big step. Brennan and Lisa were married in the rose garden at Marianjoy on their original wedding date. Marissa Dastice, MOT, OTR/L, an occupational therapist, worked with Brennan on endurance and transfers in the rose garden to prepare him for his special day.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better wedding; it was amazing to have it at the same place that brought me back to health,” said Brennan. “It marked a new chapter for me in two ways: as a married man, and as a recovering spinal cord injury patient. It really brought into focus how much I have to appreciate in life.”

Since returning home and graduating from needing a brace, Brennan continues with physical therapy to help him build muscle and stamina to get back to his everyday. Vanessa and Marissa tailored therapy to help him regain independence in his routine, focusing on strategies to help him with daily living tasks like cooking, laundry and chair transfers.

When Swimming Leads to New Possibilities

As individualized as his treatment was, Brennan’s team was not the only one to customize a care plan and utilize the full extent of Marianjoy resources. Camee was born with a neurotransmitter disorder and had difficulty developing the strength and flexibility required to stand or walk on her own. Her physician referred her and her family to Marianjoy and she was quickly identified as an ideal candidate for their aquatic therapy program. For Camee, now 9, it has been life changing.

“The warm-water pool was heaven to Camee,” said her mother, Pam. “It allowed Camee’s muscles to relax to get the most mobility she could get, reducing the tone in her muscles so she could work on strength.”

“Marianjoy’s pool is quite warm and that helps to alleviate spasticity or muscle tightness,” explained Ginny Girten, PT, PCS, a physical therapist and Marianjoy Pediatric Liaison. “When exercises are repeated, the water’s buoyancy encourages muscle memory that improves mobility outside the water. And, aquatic therapy increases muscle strength and helps improve circulation.”

Now Camee can walk on her own and continues to develop her independence at Marianjoy through physical, occupational and speech therapy.

“Everything Camee does is with passion,” Pam added. “The people at Marianjoy share that passion. They are always thinking outside the box to find a way for Camee to achieve her goals. We have learned there is nothing she can’t accomplish, with the right resources—she will get it.”

When Reaching Former Heights Requires Learning Grounded Skills

Greg, a former Marine, experienced a similar respect for his goals, as different as they may have been from Camee’s. Greg arrived at Marianjoy with a new metal rod in his leg: He had slipped on black ice and landed on the sharp metal door plate of his truck, shattering his leg. Surgery was a success, but he would need to relearn many routine movements. Moreover, he was impatient to jump straight back to the level of physical activity he was used to. Still, his care team focused his attention on smaller tasks like walking again.

“In my military and athletic background, I’ve been impatient my whole life, but Marianjoy taught me patience,” says Greg, who worked with Padma Srigiriraju, MD, during his time at Marianjoy. “I wanted to stay for the whole course of treatment at Marianjoy, however long that would take. The time I was lucky enough to spend there was amazing. Dr. Raju was extremely thorough regarding my treatment goals and schedule, while at the same time being very compassionate in doing so.”

After 13 days of inpatient care, Greg was able to return home and has since returned to work, shifting from fieldwork to business development to better fit his new capabilities.

Discover more stories of the personal impact of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital. Physiatry and physical therapy are also available at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Lake Forest Hospital and at private practices in the western suburbs.

Padma K. Srigiriraju, MD
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