Finally, Pain Free!: Debbie Howard’s Success Story
“I went to my family doctor, and he sent me to an orthopedic doctor. He asked if I wanted to try physical therapy. I never knew PT could help.” – Debbie Howard, Altoona, PA Patient
Unbearable headaches and neck pain was a part of Debbie Howard’s life for six years. After one therapy session at Phoenix Physical Therapy in Bellwood, PA, Debbie finally felt some relief. Sound too good to be true? Let’s start at the beginning.
Debbie battled daily pain for years. “I couldn’t function. For years I couldn’t turn my head completely to the left side. They told me there was a disc that was messed up.” A neurologist suggested steroid injections, but Debbie remembers thinking, “I didn’t like the idea of getting injections in my neck,” and she told the doctor she would wait until the pain became unbearable. That day came. Debbie told her husband she had to do something. Her family doctor sent her to an orthopedic specialist who offered the injections once again but also recommended a round of physical therapy. Debbie was hesitant, not knowing what to expect or whether it would work, but decided to give it a try.
Debbie spent some time researching physical therapy clinics. Ultimately she chose Phoenix. “Honestly I had never heard of it before. I had to pick one, because of my insurance. I’ve been to other ones. They were big and fancy, but not personal. Phoenix isn’t a real big place, but it’s very welcoming. They make you feel good going there.” On Debbie’s first visit, she met Lori Seiler, MPT and Altoona Clinic Director. Lori remembers that day well. “Debbie was a little unsure about therapy at first; she had tried it before with no success.” But Lori was able to put her mind at ease, even achieving some pain relief during her very first session! “She was so excited to leave the first day with a significant reduction in her headaches. She was so grateful.” So, what worked? Debbie describes a session:
“Lori does (manual cervical traction) with her hands. Oh, my goodness what a difference.” Manual cervical traction can help separate the bones, discs, and joints in your neck which takes pressure off the nerves that are causing pain. It can also relax and gently stretch your neck muscles. Debbie was also treated with heat therapy and Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or TENS, which is a therapy that uses low voltage electrical current for pain relief. A significant portion of Debbie’s recovery was learning how to relieve the pain herself for long term relief. “(Lori) showed me stretches with my neck to do on my own. She taught me how to find relief myself! It’s been good. I’m very pleased and happy with that.” Debbie reveals she wishes she would have known sooner physical therapy could help with headaches. “After 12 sessions of therapy I have relief. It’s such a relief. After my very first session, Lori said, ‘how do you feel?’ I said, no headache! Finally, relief!”
Debbie’s advice to someone who may be on the fence about trying PT? “Go! Give it a try because it works.” Debbie says she will continue to do the stretches Lori taught her to find relief herself. She also returned to Phoenix Physical Therapy in Altoona for another issue, saying “I feel better going to a place like that than going to a place where you are just another patient. They know who you are. They talk to me like they’ve known me for years. And I Like that.”
Finding Healing, Strength and Family When the Unexpected Hits: Lynn Lundgren’s Success Story
“It’s scary to think at one minute you have everything and within minutes it’s all gone, and you can’t do anything.” – LynnLundgren, Waterford,MIPatient
In an instant, life changed for Lynn Lundgren. The car she was driving was broadsided by another car, leaving her with major injuries. “I broke my left hip, my left wrist, my right ankle, and I had 4 fractures in my back. He hit me on the driver’s side.” Lynn had so many injuries, her broken ankle went unnoticed until her hospital Physical Therapist became concerned when she couldn’t walk. An X ray revealed the break and Lynn was in the operating room within hours. Lynn spent days in the hospital as doctors worked to make the initial repairs to her broken body. Her hip was so badly damaged, it needed to be replaced.
Once the surgeries were complete, Lynn transferred to an inpatient facility to recover. There she had a taste of physical therapy and occupational therapy. She considered that experience a success. But then came time for outpatient PT and OT. Lynn chose Advanced Physical Therapy Center in Waterford, Michigan, now part of the Phoenix Physical Therapy family. Lynn recalls her first thoughts about the next move in her recovery plan. “I had no idea what to expect. I thought it would be a piece of cake again. I’m so glad it wasn’t because the improvement they made in me in such a short time is amazing. It was hard.”
Lynn arrived at Advanced PT Waterford with a walker, a boot on her ankle and braces on her wrist and back. She needed physical and occupational therapy to help her get back to living life normally again. In OT, her therapist would massage and stretch her hand, wrist, and arm. There were exercises for which Lynn had to put pegs into holes and place clips onto a metal pole to improve her strength and dexterity. Lynn calls another one of those exercises “the box of torture.” An Occupational Therapist would tell you the exercise involves a box filled with rice grains and safety pins. The goal is to pick out each safety pin, separating it from the grains of rice, with your eyes closed. It is not as easy as it sounds!
In PT with Jill Heberling, LPTA, Lynn used the NuStep reclining bicycle and the treadmill. There was stretching, balancing, and flexibility exercises. When asked what was the hardest thing? Lynn responds, “Nothing really. Everything they asked me to do, I’ve been able to succeed at. I hated planks, but I can do planks now!
I’m proud of myself for doing them. It made me feel GREAT! It made me feel accomplished, really good and I’m thankful that they worked with me so hard to get me where I am right now.”
Jill looks back on her time with Lynn. “Lynn was determined from the initial evaluation to get back to her normal life. Within a few visits, she was often encouraging other patients to work hard to achieve their goals. She went from barely being able to walk into the clinic, needing assistance at home and in a great deal of pain to walking on the treadmill, squatting with weight, and completing tasks at home without assistance.”
Lynn is quick to point out, some days were especially tough for her, but she soon found out she was not alone. “They’re not only therapists, they’re like psychologists. I came in so many times, not in it. I was a mess. Jill just sat down and talked to me. We took it easy, and I felt so much better. I didn’t expect that.”
Five months after entering the Waterford clinic, Lynn arrived at her discharge day. “I couldn’t take a shower by myself. I needed to learn how to eat right handed. I wasn’t weight bearing so I could walk. I couldn’t sleep in bed. All I could do was sit. I can do everything now! I’m back to my life!”
Lynn plans to visit the Waterford clinic regularly. “I’m sad. I don’t want to stop. These people have become my family. I’ve been here since June. I look forward to coming here. I always tell people, they’re really nice when you first get here, and then they get tough. But it’s a good tough. I wouldn’t have been anywhere if it hadn’t been for them. I just can’t say enough about this place and people who work here. They actually care.” Jill
Heberling, LPTA feels the same about her. “The entire staff grew close with Lynn, and we are all very proud of the work she put in during her physical and occupational therapy.”
Lynn also plans to offer her time to help other Advanced PT patients who may be facing a long road to recovery. She hopes by talking about her journey, she can help others the way another Advanced patient helped her. She met Ken Taylor at the Waterford clinic during one of her first visits. “I never was afraid once I met Ken and heard his story. It made things easier. We’ve all become family.” If you’d like to talk to Lynn, call the Waterford clinic at (248)618 3050 and we will put you in touch with her.
Finding the Tools to Battle Parkinson’s: Alice Knox’s Success Story
“There was a day I walked three miles. Three days later I couldn’t walk from my bedroom to the bathroom and that’s when I knew I was in trouble.” Alice Knox, Flint, MIPatient
When Alice was a very young child, doctors said her life expectancy would be 13 years. At 74 years of age, Alice Knox walks into Advanced Physical Therapy Center, part of the Phoenix family, a married woman of 54 years, a mother of two and a grandmother. Alice reflects, “I was raised by a mother who was determined. I’ve had multiple diagnoses, but every time my mother heard about a new doctor and treatment, off we went.” After years of uncertainty about what was affecting Alice’s ability to move and function normally, it was determined she had a form of Parkinson’s Disease. Her doctor prescribed two medications. “They stopped a lot of the tremors, the dyskinesia, but it gave me back a normal life. By that time, if people didn’t know that I had a neurological dysfunction, they couldn’t tell.” Alice was in remission for most of her life. “A few times I would go out of remission. They’d mess with my meds, and I’d go back into remission. They told me my disease would eventually come out of remission and I would never go back in.” That day eventually came. “There was a day I walked three miles. Three days later I couldn’t walk from my bedroom to the bathroom and that’s when I knew I was in trouble.”
Alice’s doctor ran tests, and it soon became clear the symptoms of Parkinson’s were here to stay and remission would not be possible again. Alice’s doctor sent her to Advanced PT – Flint to try an innovative physical and occupational therapy program called LSVT BIG. LSVT BIG helps to increase strength and motor learning, and address changes in brain function in individuals with Parkinson's Disease and other neurological conditions. Each treatment focuses on the production of large amplitude whole body functional movements. Alice had never heard of LSVT BIG, but that did not stop her from trying it. “I was hopeful, because I had absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
On day one, Alice met Nancy Harrington, PT and Dana Fletcher, LPTA. “I told Nancy and Dana when we started, I don’t want to waste time doing things that are too easy.” Dana looks back on their sessions. “She definitely pushed herself. She would say, ‘nope, that’s too easy’ and we’d have to do something else.” The program includes 16 sessions: four consecutive days a week for four weeks. There is daily homework as well. Many of Alice’s exercises included arm swings, sitting to standing movements and large leg movement exercises which gave her improved balance, trunk rotation and bigger walking steps. Dana remembers how quickly Alice showed improvement. “That first week! The second week she was doing things that Nancy and I were blown away with. She’s very determined at home too. She was very good about doing her exercises at home.” Alice couldn’t believe what she was able to do. “One of the things I can do now, that I could never do before was coordinate movement with opposite extremities.”
A teacher for 31 years, Alice understood people learn in different ways. She was pleased Dana and Nancy were flexible with their teaching methods. “They let me break (the exercises) down into smaller pieces. When I tried to do the entire movement at first, my brain didn’t process it. They said break it down into any way that works for you. We started small with each part and then put it all together. They were flexible and they would listen to me.”
Dana is quick to point out, “Just as much as I gave her suggestions, she gave me suggestions.” Alice completes Dana’s thought. “She has changed and modified things in the book to fit me! She was my miracle worker. She and Nancy are like family now.” And Alice’s own family has her back every step of the way too, including her husband Bob. “Bob has been my rock. I cannot tell you how many waiting rooms and offices he has sat waiting for me. We’ve been married 54 years.”
Alice arrived for her first LSVT BIG session using a walker. After her 16th session, she confidently walked out of Advanced PT – Flint knowing she had the tools to help herself stay active long term and battle her Parkinson’s symptoms head on. “I don’t understand why this building isn’t full to overflowing with Parkinson’s patients because this program has literally changed my life. You can get better. You don’t take Parkinson’s away but there can be a better way to live with it. And living with it is what you have to do. Come here, get better. Nobody here makes any judgement about you. When I came in here, I was barely able to walk at all and now I can. I know I can get better yet. I want to be able to walk the 8k Crim again. I want to be in downtown Flint and have that bib on and wear whatever new shirt they have for the Crim next year and I want to be able to walk again.” Dana is confident Alice can accomplish that goal saying, “I plan to be there cheering you on! We had a lot of fun. It makes my heart happy.”
How Finding the Right Physical Therapist Changed
My Life: Manmohan “Manu” Riat’s
Manmohan Riat, or Manu as he likes to be called, has felt the effects of scoliosis since high school. He tried everything to relieve the pain: medication, steroid injections, and physical therapy. Manu remembers, “I had been to many physical therapy places before. They wouldn’t spend a lot of time with their patients. They would just do 30 minutes of physical therapy and say, ‘it will take time’. I would say, ‘I’m not getting better. I’m not feeling better. I’m not progressing.” The pain began to travel down his leg. “I couldn’t lift, I couldn’t sit for too long or walk for too long. My life quality was very low. I took medication but I still couldn’t perform my normal activities.”
Manu decided to have surgery, but insurance complications made the process difficult. Not knowing where to turn, Manu searched for someone with knowledge about his specific needs, which included a test to show he was a candidate for surgery. He reached out to several healthcare providers, including Phoenix Physical Therapy in Herndon, Virginia. Clinic Director, Dr. Ashley Rader, PT, DPT picked up the phone. She invited him to the clinic for a consultation. While the test Manu needed is not a service Phoenix Physical Therapy provides, Ashley was able to confirm that his condition would require the expertise of a physician and guided him to a trusted spinal surgeon she had worked with in the past. The new surgeon was able to provide the care Manu needed, which included four surgeries. The first was for was for a disc herniation due to his scoliosis. The second was a ten hour spinal fusion surgery. The third added spaces between two of his vertebrae. And the fourth tightened a screw that had become loose. The surgeon also prescribed physical therapy as part of Manu’s recovery process.
Manu was hesitant about trying physical therapy again, but was pleased with how Ashley guided him through some uncertain times. He decided to give Ashley and Phoenix a try. “I was scheduled with Ashley, and everything was like magic!” Manu instantly knew Phoenix was different. “I’ve seen a lot of Physical Therapists. I would do 30 minutes and they would say, ‘you’re good to go home’. (Ashley) has spent two hours with me at times. I don’t think any other Physical Therapist has spent two
hours on me. And it’s not just me, it’s everyone. She spends time and takes care with everything. She has a passion. People who have a passion go beyond. They care. They listen. They change things to fit the patient.”
Manu was eager to attend each therapy session. His treatments included, “dry needling, manual therapy, strengthening exercises, stretching, treadmill walking, lifting, and things that strengthen the core muscles. My favorite is dry needling.” The exercises made Manu feel like himself again, but that is not the only reason he continues to choose Phoenix. “The main thing is care. She doesn’t rush through the material. She speaks with the patient and has a plan and includes the patient in the plan. Phoenix PT, and Dr. Ashley brought my confidence back in physical therapy.”
Manu’s trust in the Herndon team resulted in his whole family choosing Phoenix and Ashley. “My parents go to her too. My mother and father go there. The whole team is excellent. (Patient Care Coordinator,) Denise Kelly is so caring and so nice. She helps with insurance and the schedule. I’ve never met a team like this. I have the best medical team in the world, I tell people.” And he believes the proof is in the results he can feel after surgery, followed by an individualized physical therapy program made just for him. “I have lived with scoliosis for 8 years. Now, thanks to my surgeon and physical therapy I am walking straight with a confident posture, pain free. I’m building muscles. I’m back working. My life is great thanks to them.”
Manu is grateful he gave physical therapy another chance and found a team whose fundamentals and goals align with his. “Physical Therapists can only change your life if you are going to help them too. But you need to believe in your therapist. Dr. Ashley Rader has been trained and has the experience and expertise. Phoenix has the best trained Physical Therapists. We all consider them like a family member. My whole family respects them a lot. 100%, I will go back to them! I could have been done with PT. I’m so glad I gave it another chance.”
Changing His Future with Physical Therapy: Samir El-Sayed’s Success Story
worry about major surgery right now.” – Samir El Sayed, Patient A convenient location and a doctor’s referral brought Samir El Sayed to one of our clinics in 2017. The choice was made for him then, but now he knows the therapist you choose does make a difference and would not go anywhere else. Samir’s story begins outside where he loves to be active. He spent years enjoying sports like skiing and tennis. Unfortunately, those favorite activities left him with a knee injury that required surgery. A surgeon performed a meniscus repair and recommended physical therapy as part of his recovery. Samir recalls feeling great after his first round of therapy, “I was able to fully function after my first experience. Then I was able to go out and do functional things! Play tennis, go skiing. It was helpful.”
A few years later, Samir was diagnosed with degenerative arthritis in his hip. “Ski season was very hard. I had to give up playing tennis. The two things that I really enjoy doing I had to put on the shelf. I really wasn’t happy about that.” He met with an orthopedist who tried steroid injections and other treatments. But not much helped. He remembered his previous success with physical therapy and decided to see Kevin, his Physical Therapist, again. “I made a commitment that I was going to be ready for the next ski season. I decided I was going to go back and work with Kevin and give it my all. We started in late August and met twice a week all the way through December.” Samir’s sessions included a variety of treatments and techniques. “The first 20 minutes, Kevin would do hands on techniques. He worked on increasing my flexibility and loosening the hip which had become tight over time. Then he developed a specific set of exercises that I would do for the rest of the time. We also realized I had a torn labrum. Kevin adjusted my plan and developed a set of exercises to help that. I regained my strength and flexibility.” Samir was shocked to see how quickly he made progress. “It was pretty immediate. Walking out of the session initially I was feeling better.”
With the pain disappearing and his strength returning, Samir felt confident he would be able to hit the slopes again. “I never got discouraged because I saw some benefits. Every time I went, I could tell I was getting stronger and after therapy my hip would feel looser and was able to have fewer problems.” Samir does not downplay the hard work necessary to have a successful outcome. He is also quick to point out choosing the right therapist is important. “They really do care about their patients. They’re willing to take the time and effort to help people get better. They’re super knowledgeable about what they do. I’ve gone to people in the past where that hasn’t been exactly the case. Kevin just has a high level of competence that really comes across. You won’t get the same level of benefit if the treatment isn’t tailored to what you need. It just won’t be as effective.”
When ski season arrived, Samir was ready. “I’ve skied five days this year. I’ve had a total turnaround. That’s why I’m so happy with Kevin and physical therapy. I’m back to doing the things I love.” The best part for Samir is not worrying about surgery right now. “When I went to my (doctor) last year, he said, ‘you are looking at hip replacement in the next few years.’ That was a shocking statement for me. I was really surprised. But now, being able to delay that and enjoy life? My time is important. I want to do this on my time. I’m able to ski with my adult children who push me to do things I normally wouldn’t, and I enjoy it. That’s what matters. I don’t have to worry about major surgery right now.”
Gaining Her Independence Again at 85:
Doris Snyder’s Success Story
At 85 years young, Doris Snyder had always lived her life to the fullest. But stenosis and deteriorating discs impacted her independence. She remembers living in pain and in fear. “I had pain from my hip, down my leg, to my ankle. I was walking like an old person! I felt like my hip was giving out. I was using a walker because I was afraid I’d fall to the ground.” Doris did not want to live in fear and wanted to get back to enjoying life. After discussing her options, Doris and her doctor came to a decision. “I knew they couldn’t do surgery at 85, so the only thing I could try was physical therapy. I had trouble getting up from a chair. I had to lean on the table to get a boost. I knew I had to go for therapy. I had two shoulder and two knee replacements. I knew what physical therapy could do for me!”
Doris needed to find a new, trusted Physical Therapist after moving to Pennsylvania. A neighbor recommended Phoenix Physical Therapy after her husband, who had a stroke, had a successful outcome with the Phoenix - Jersey Shore team. Doris set up an appointment and met with Clinic Director, Barry Wrench, PT, DPT, TPS. Doris remembers that day. “Barry took a history right away and was quite thorough. I felt good that he knew what I needed.”
Therapy sessions began right away for Doris. “They didn’t have me doing the things that other people were doing. Everyone was doing something different. It wasn’t like you go and get on a bike. One thing didn’t go for everyone. It was individual treatment because everybody is different.” Doris’ exercises were aimed at strengthening her back, and restoring her mobility and flexibility. “I had a big ball. I’d sit in the chair and stretch out over the big ball. I did a lot of different exercises sitting in a chair. They wanted me to get up on a table and I couldn’t. So, they adjusted and found a table I could sit down on and then get up on it. They really worked with me.”
After being in pain for months, Doris noticed a difference at the end of her second week of therapy. “I just started to get relief. I really progressed quite well. When I started, I couldn’t even get in and out of my own car. I have a car that’s low. I bought it because I was having trouble. After a couple of weeks, I was able to get in and out of my own car. I was so happy!”
Doris’ therapy sessions continued for three more weeks. Her program included homework, which meant she needed to complete exercises on her own, to ensure the recovery process continued even when she was not at the clinic. Now, “my pain is completely gone. When I went to bed, I couldn’t stay there I had to get up because the pain down my leg was so bad. I’m sleeping better now, I don’t have any pain down my leg, I’ve been to the market myself, I keep my house picked up better, and I can shower comfortably! I can shop and I’ve even been out with the ladies. I’m independent! I’ve been liberated!”
Doris is grateful for physical therapy and the independence she has once again. “Why would you continue to suffer? Try it! I have a sister who had the same problem. She went and had surgery, now she must go back and have some more. I’m feeling great after physical therapy and she’s still battling her pain.” But Doris is quick to point out, not all physical therapy facilities are the same. “I’ve been to six different therapy places over my life. (Phoenix) is the very best. Sometimes you go to therapy someplace else, and they tell you what to do and leave you there. Then, they pick up someone else. When you get old, you forget what you’re doing. You lose track of the count and sometimes you don’t do it right. If someone isn’t right there to tell you are doing it wrong it doesn’t help. They pay attention. They didn’t expect you to remember. You don’t want to feel alone.”
Doris looks back on her time with the Jersey Shore team fondly and knows where she will go if she is in pain again. “They didn’t just say farewell. I know I could go back, and they will remember me. They were so patient with us, with the elderly. They were very kind and thoroughly interested in the person. Phoenix hires the right people. They care. I was very impressed. I’ve been a lot of places, and this is the absolute best. I’d travel quite a few miles to go back to these people. I’d go out of my way to see them again.”
Doris plans to keep up with her at home exercises to ensure she can keep living her life to fullest. She feels confident now that the trusted therapists at Phoenix are part of her healthcare team.
Healing her Brain and Body:
Elisabeth Davis’ Success Story
“My recovery would have taken two to three times as long, for sure. And who knows if I’d be back to where I am now. Sometimes you don’t fully recover. Talk about a scary experience!” ElisabethDavis, Robesonia, PA Patient
Elisabeth Davis has a passion for cycling. “I started on a Peloton and when the weather got nice I said, I want to be out there!” Liz quickly made the transition to outdoor riding and decided to start doing group rides with other cyclists. “I love it. I love the longer rides. It’s nothing for me to do 60 miles on a Saturday.” A 100 mile ride in early September, that started in Maryland, looped through Pennsylvania and back into Maryland, caught Liz’s eye. She and a friend decided they would take part in the unique event, but 20 miles in, Liz crashed. “I believe I was drafting my partner and I hit his back wheel. It threw me from the bike.” Liz doesn’t remember exactly what happened next, but she does know falling off a bike going 15 20 miles an hour did some major damage to her body. Liz is quick to point out however, had she not invested in good helmet technology, things could have been much, much worse. “When I fell off my bike, my head hit the ground and I skidded to a stop. You could see the skid marks on the helmet.” But it was the inside of the helmet that told the real story. The Trek helmet was still under warranty and when Liz returned it to the store, the woman behind the counter said, “you broke all the wave cell technology inside. You destroyed this helmet.”
The top of the line Trek helmet likely saved Liz’s life, but she still suffered a severe concussion. Liz recalls, “I have no memory of being in the hospital, except for when the doctor told me I was released I asked, when can I ride again? That was it.” The doctor simply said, “when you start feeling like yourself again.” Liz followed up with her Primary Care Physician a few days later. “But I don’t remember our conversation. He wrote on my paperwork to make an appointment with a Neurologist. He didn’t talk about not working or taking some time to rest. Maybe I looked normal, but cognitively I was not. I barely remember anything from the
week after my accident. I remember my adult son calling and asking me if I remember talking to him. I said, no.” Liz tried to work the Tuesday after her accident. She spoke with one of her co workers who pointed out that she had told her the same story three times. Liz knew then something was very wrong, and she needed to rest. She took the rest of the week off and called a Neurologist. Unfortunately, the Neurologist was booking appointments two months out, so she tried to get back to her life in the meantime.
Liz completed a short bike ride exactly one week after her accident. “I was totally fine during the ride, but when we stopped, my friend said, ‘hey, wait, don’t cross the street yet.’ I didn’t get my foot out of the clips fast enough and I fell over into soft ground. I knew not to hit my head. I protected my head, wrapped my arms around it and hugged myself.” But the fall did exacerbate an injury from Liz’s first accident. She had significant pain in her collar bone and noticed when some of the swelling went down, her left and right collar bones did not match. Several doctor visits and x ray’s later, Liz learned not only did she completely fracture her collar bone, but she also had 2 fractures in her elbow, which had gone undiagnosed since the first accident. Surgery was not an option, so the next step was to let her injuries heal.
A trip to a cycling event in Harrisburg pushed Liz to the next step in her recovery. She visited a tent set up by the Phoenix Physical Therapy - Harrisburg team. She asked about whether physical therapy would help rehabilitate her body after her broken bones heal. The Phoenix team assured her PT could help. Liz remembers wishing the Harrisburg team was closer to her home. “They were really nice, very courteous. I would have liked to work with them, but Harrisburg is too far. But when I was out driving one day, I recognized the sign. There was a Phoenix Physical Therapy in Robesonia, right down the road!” Liz called the Robesonia clinic and explained what happened. She knew she’d have to wait several more weeks for her bones to fully heal to start physical therapy, but she quickly learned her concussion could be treated immediately. “I had no idea physical therapy could help with a
concussion. It was very emotional for me because I felt helpless. I was very overwhelmed.”
Liz went in for an assessment and discovered the situation was worse than she had thought. Baseline testing revealed significant issues with her brain function. Liz was scared. “I’m an insurance professional, I need my brain. It’s eye opening. I was worried about my job and worried about being able to care for myself.” Robesonia Clinic Director, Mike Bartolomucci, PT, DPT completed her baseline testing. “We were able to immediately start care and track progress using our Advanced MAC Concussion cart in which an Eye Guide and Impact Test were completed in addition to an extensive physical therapy evaluation.” Mike explained to her how brain training works. The plan includes exercises and weekly testing. Liz felt reassured. “He said, ‘your brain will heal at its own rate, but we can measure your progress.’ I was so grateful to everyone there.”
Liz began working two days a week to heal her brain. “A lot of your cognitive ability, or ability to make sure you don’t put yourself in another compromising position, is to make sure you have balance. So, we did a lot of exercises on balance boards and a big ball that you would have to sit on. I had to walk and hold an object, and move that object from side to side and focus on that object without losing my balance. We put sticky notes on the door, and I had to keep my head straight but move my eyes up and down, left to right. The goal was to get my eyes working together again.” Liz also completed these exercises at home to further her progress. Mike was impressed with her recovery. “Through emphasizing coordination, balance, memory, and activities to improve oculomotor deficits Elizabeth made steady progress surpassing expectations.” After more than three months of hard work, Liz asked Mike about whether it was possible her vision had changed. “Mike suggested I go to the eye doctor, saying my vision had likely stabilized and wouldn’t change much more. I got a new pair of glasses. And the glasses were the final step. Once I got my glasses it felt back to normal. I graduated!”
Liz began to rehabilitate her collar bone and elbow during the last few weeks of her concussion therapy. She found she needed to rehabilitate her whole body, not just the areas where she broke bones. “When you work one part of the body, it affects other parts of the body. I had a broken collar bone and that impacted my shoulder. (Mike) incorporated exercises to help build strength in my arm and shoulder to support my movements. I received massages to increase flexibility. I remember laying there one time and they could feel the tight spot. I could FEEL the pain and they knew right where to touch. Then I could feel the muscle release, and wow! They said, ‘there you go!’ It was amazing.” Mike is proud of what Liz accomplished
with the help of his Phoenix - Robesonia team. “Elizabeth again, made steady improvements with mobility, range of motion, strength, and overall function. Through progressing physical therapy along with an advanced home exercise program Elizabeth met all her goals. Elizabeth is now back on her bicycle and able to perform all work related tasks without limitation. It was an extremely rewarding experience being a part of Elizabeth’s success story. Happy Cycling!”
And cycling is what Liz plans to do. “I’ve already signed up for multiple rides. Even though I’m an older cyclist my goal is to be the best that I can be and continue to improve. I have children, and for me it’s always been about leading by example. Just because their mom is old, doesn’t mean she can’t do things and live her best life. You have to take care of yourself. You’re only given one body.”
She also plans to advocate for increased concussion education. “So much of concussion protocol is geared to children and sports. Not much is geared toward adults. Most physicians probably don’t know how to deal with people like me. Even though I didn’t know there was therapy for head injuries, I was proactive and knew enough to make a phone call. The (Robesonia) team knew I could benefit from therapy. My recovery would have taken two to three times as long, for sure. And who knows if I’d be back to where I am now. Sometimes you don’t fully recover. Talk about a scary experience!”
Liz describes why she is happy with her choice to call Phoenix that day. “I’m in customer service. I know how important it is to make connections with people. Let me just say, I felt like I was visiting family. Yes, they put me to work, and wouldn’t let me coast by, but they were like family. I really miss them. I really do. They’ve given me the quality of life back that I need, that I want, that I deserve. Trust me when I
say, if ever another need like this arises, I’m not even going to look at another facility, I know where I’m going to go.”
Liz encourages everyone to try physical therapy. “You only get one body. You only get one brain. It is so important to make sure you are taking care of yourself so you can live your best life. An injury, in my opinion, can impact the quality of your life for the rest of your life. You have to take care of it. There are things you can do to make it better, even fix it completely. Why would you not do that for yourself?”
Kicking Plantar Fasciitis to get Back in the Game:
Jack’s Success Story
“It’s good to see him playing the way he used to. Watching him trying to fight through the pain was hard.” Suzie, Jack’s Mom
Jack is very active teenager. From soccer to golf he loves to be outside. But sudden, sharp pain in his foot nearly stopped Jack from playing the sport he loves. “It started hurting when I was playing (soccer) and after about a month I realized it wasn’t going away. I would start running and doing drills, but I wasn’t able to do the full practice. I still played, but it hurt.” Jack’s mom, Suzie, had an idea about what the problem might be. She chose Direct Access at Phoenix Physical Therapy’s Charlotte, North Carolina clinic to begin immediate treatment for Jack. Direct Access means patients can be evaluated and treated by a Physical Therapist without needing a practitioner or other healthcare provider's referral. Direct Access laws vary by state. Your Phoenix Physical Therapy Patient Care Coordinator can explain how it works and determine if you’re eligible.
An evaluation of Jack’s feet quickly pointed to what Suzie suspected: plantar fasciitis. Jack remembers that day. “They started by looking at my feet. They wanted to see how I could walk and do exercises. I was massaged with a metal tool. It tickled a little. They thought I had plantar fasciitis.” Suzie was concerned, but felt confident physical therapy could help once Jack’s therapy team created his individualized plan. “I was happy to have an answer. I had a feeling that’s what it was. To have someone say for sure, this is what’s going on and we know what to do to help him was great.” Jack’s therapist was not surprised about the diagnosis. “Between soccer, golf and all his other activities he’s on his toes a lot. It’s not uncommon. The fascia is at the bottom of the foot. It connects your heal into the toes and acts as support for the muscles and the tendons. One of the classic signs of plantar fasciitis is feeling pain first thing in the morning when you get out of bed. It will be difficult to take those first steps. And at the end of his workouts, Jack was having a lot of pain. It’s really heel pain that sometimes radiates into his toes.”
Jack’s treatment started immediately. “I would come in and do a warmup on the bike for 10 minutes. Then they’d use the metal tool and then we’d go into stretching and stuff.” Jack was tired after his sessions, which is normal, but it meant his therapy team needed to create an appointment schedule that allowed him to keep up with school and soccer practices, while still giving him enough time to recover. Despite being a little tired and sore, Jack loved going to physical therapy. “I was excited! Marilyn Dang, the Patient Care Coordinator, welcomed me when I first came. It was a fun experience overall. They made me feel comfortable. I wanted to go, and it was pretty fun.” Suzie knew she chose the right facility for her son. “He felt like he had a workout; he was even sweating after his sessions. We were getting up early to get there before the day started and he didn’t complain about it.”
Jack’s therapists made sure they knew his long term goals. They didn’t stop at just resolving the pain. “Once we controlled his symptoms and pain we moved to balance and strengthening. We did a lot of plyometric training which are explosive moments that will carry over to soccer. Those basic strengthening things are important to address as teens are growing. Not a lot of kids focus on that kind of thing. We can train on correct body mechanics which leads to improvement down into the foot, so he likely won’t experience this issue again.” Jack enjoyed the full body training. “I did some exercises for my hips and legs with an exercise band. I had to walk down a hallway. Then, I’d stand on an exercise ball and bend down and touch the cones.”
Jack spent about 10 weeks with his Phoenix team, but could feel the benefits of his therapy several weeks in. “After a little while, I went to one practice and didn’t feel pain. It was an awesome day. I could do everything!” Now, Jack is back on the playing field pain free and stronger than before. “I’m able to play defense now, without any problems. I’m focused and able to do my best.” Suzie is thrilled with the solid results she can see. “As a spectator I could tell he wasn’t playing at his best because he was hurting. Now, he’s back to where he was without pain in his feet. It’s good to see him playing the way he used to. Watching him trying to fight
through the pain was hard. It was a little bit of a challenge, and we are past that now. He just has to keep doing his home exercises.” A home exercise plan is included with most therapy regimens. It can keep a patient on track, giving them the power to control and resolve their pain.
Suzie knows making decisions about healthcare for your child can be a difficult, but offers this advice about physical therapy, “I think it’s definitely worth trying. It’s safe; it’s not invasive. A lot of doctors recommend it. I believe and trust in it. It was definitely the first step in making him feel better and resolving his plantar fasciitis. And there is good energy at Phoenix PT – Charlotte. There is a sense of community when you walk in the door. We will definitely go back if we need to!” Jack is thankful his mom chose Phoenix. “It was a good experience. It helped me get through my pain. If you have pain, tell your parents about it, and get help!”
Reaching Milestones with Physical Therapy:
Onyx Gettel’s Success Story
“It’s difficult when your child is behind, and you see a bunch of kids her age do things she should be doing. But then you see her accomplishments and the new things she’s able to do and it’s really great.” Stephanie,Onyx’sMother
Onyx Gettel was born with tricuspid atresia and frontonasal dysplasia. Tricuspid atresia happens when the right ventricle of the heart is underdeveloped, and frontonasal dysplasia is a condition that can cause brain development issues. Stephanie, Onyx’s mom, explains how these conditions affected the first year of Onyx’s life. “She’s had 3 strokes. There is a cleft going up the middle of her nose, she doesn’t have a nasal bone, and she is missing her olfactory bulb. She spent the first 10 months of her life in the hospital. She was really delayed in every area. She wasn’t walking, talking, or eating. We eventually got to the point where she was 18 months old, but she was still functioning at a 6 month-old level.”
Onyx’s parents were advised physical therapy could help her reach some of the developmental milestones she was missing. “We started looking for physical therapy locally and no one was willing to see her because she needed a lot of work, and they weren’t comfortable working with her. Thankfully Lily gave her a chance. She was excited to work with her, and we live very close to the clinic.” Lily is Lily McDowell, PT, DPT, a Physical Therapist at the Phoenix Physical Therapy clinic in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Stephanie scheduled an initial evaluation. “We got our evaluation done with Lily and she was amazing, so patient and very helpful. She recognized that Onyx was not able to pull to stand, not walking, not crawling. She was at a six to eight month level. She was literally just sitting.” Lily created a long term plan for Onyx. Stephanie knew she chose the right facility for her daughter, even though the work did not look like typical physical therapy. “They used play therapy. Kids learn best through play. So, we had a bunch of toys.”
The exercises included placing rings on cones, grasping brightly colored toys, and climbing stairs. “Lily was always willing to try new things. She even looked to her co workers for help with new ideas. She focused on Onyx’s core strength. She made sure she listened and checked Onyx’s hips to make sure they were working correctly. She paid attention to the details that most parents wouldn’t even think of. She made sure I knew what questions to ask her doctor, like whether she needed orthotics, for example.”
Stephanie noticed a change in Onyx after only two weeks of therapy. “It was so exciting. It gave us motivation. Being told exactly what do with her and how to support her really helped us to work more with her at home. Every little milestone is a huge win for us.” The progress continued over seven months of treatment, pushing Onyx to a developmental stage close to where she should be. “She’s up to the 15 to 17 months level. She just turned two and she is literally doing almost everything. She can stand up super quick and easy. She can crawl and she loves to climb the stairs, which scares me, but it’s awesome. Lily tried sensory things with her, which improved her play skills too. She wants to interact with people, she grabs things better and she wants to interact with her siblings now. She used to just throw toys. Now she plays with them.”
As Lily made an impact on Onyx’s life, Onyx also touched Lily. “I had an amazing experience getting to work with Onyx and her family. Not only did Onyx present with delays in development but also significant medical complexity impacting her progress but through it all Onyx and her parents demonstrated determination and dedication to her care and gross motor development. I am honored to have had the opportunity to be a part of her journey and amazed at the growth in her gross motor skill and enjoyed getting to watch her personality blossom over the last 7 months.”
Stephanie is grateful for Lily and the entire Chambersburg team. “Everyone was so nice. When she walked in everyone knew who she was and greeted her. They were patient with me too! They would call if I missed an appointment. I have five kids, so they understood when I’d forget an appointment. I really appreciated knowing they
cared about Onyx as much as I do. It was a great experience and I’m really excited knowing I have a place to go if anything else arises.”
Onyx will need speech therapy and occupational therapy now. Her parents will continue to work with her at home, building on the foundation Lily created for her. “We are still working on standing from a bear crawl because she doesn’t quite stand up by herself. We will keep encouraging her to walk and get stronger. She has already gotten a lot stronger and that makes her super excited. When she does something she looks at you with bright eyes like she’s saying, ‘I did it mom, I did it! I took a bunch of steps.’ She sees us get so excited for her and that gets her excited.”
Body and Mind: Ron Schiding’s Success Story
“My injury was not strictly a physical one. When a life-threatening injury can occur on a no-frills walk with your dog, especially during the difficulty of the COVID years, and you have people who rely on you, it’s easy to become afraid.”
Ron Schiding, Robesonia, PA Patient
An ankle injury turned into much, much more for Ron Schiding. “I twisted my ankle in a particularly bad way, with swelling that was comparable to a tennis ball, and a good deal of internal bleeding and bruising. More concerning, this injury, combined with immobility and a pressure boot, led to the relatively rare result of a blood clot in the calf above the injury.” It was a scary, emotional time for Ron, who spent nearly a full day in the hospital. “It was a frightening night of calling friends and family about the seriousness of the circumstance, and trying to comfort and reassure my children.” Ron received treatment just in time and was placed on blood thinners. He had to change the daily routine that kept him healthy physically and mentally because of the blood thinners and his ankle injury. “I was struggling to walk, use stairs, and I couldn’t carry items because of the crutches. I had also come to rely on jogging as my main source of stress relief. I had developed anxiety that had been acute enough to call for medical treatment, and those medications were not something I could take because of the blood thinner required for my blood clot.”
Ron was prescribed physical therapy. It would be a long road, with at least 18 sessions, so finding a convenient clinic was a top priority. Ron chose Phoenix Physical Therapy in Robesonia, Pennsylvania. This wasn’t the first time Ron injured his ankle, so he expected a similar PT routine of picking up foam peanuts with his toes, getting cold treatment for the swelling and some resistance band exercises. But after his first session, Ron realized Phoenix was going to be different. “I was impressed that my therapists were free with discussion of the anatomy of my lower leg and a source of far more information than the doctor I’d seen after my blood
clot emergency room trip, my general practitioner, and the foot doctor who was my primary source for help with my ankle. None of those doctors could take the time to talk with me about my mobility, causes and locations of pain and reduced mobility, and none offered much in the way of specific prognosis and what to expect from my healing body.”
Encouraged by his evaluation and the knowledge of Clinic Director, Mike Bartolomucci, PT, DPT, Ron began his sessions that included uniquely tailored strengthening and mobility exercises, just for him. “I had several calf stretching exercises, and learned about the critical connection between my calves and my ankles. I had balancing exercises on unstable surfaces, including a foam block and a pair of tools that are like ‘wobble boards’. I also had leg strengthening exercises to maximize all the supportive muscle groups pertinent to my ankle stability and recovery. I also had a focused ankle massage with each visit, and a 15 minute rest after exercise with my foot in a device that circulated ice water over the affected area.”
Ron’s goal of being able to jog again was extremely important to him. The life threatening injury left him worried and fearful he would not get back to doing the things he loved to do and needed to do to stay healthy. His therapists understood that fear and worked with him to combat that andthe pain. Ron is grateful to them, “for understanding the sense of fear that my injury produced, and for taking it seriously, and compassionately, when I said that I had become worried and anxious about regular everyday movements, then giving me proactive ways to fight that fear with exercises that made positive outcomes far more likely.”
Ron felt empowered as he progressed through his customized treatment plan. He knew Mike would be there to help him until he reached those important goals. “Beyond ending pain, and achieving basic stability, the therapists took the “checking in” survey they had given me very seriously, and saw that when asked if I could do the things I enjoyed doing, I indicated that I was nowhere near that goal. I wanted badly to be able to jog again. Not just to walk without pain, but to be able to start running again. I didn’t want to run marathons, yet, but being able to rely on my foot for a 20 minute jog would make a serious difference for me.” Eventually,
Ron reached a milestone. “My most valuable progression with my physical therapy regime was when they felt ready to let me run on the treadmill, and they gauged a safe and healthy way for me to return to the exercise I needed.”
Ron’s recovery quickly progressed from there. “I can walk without fearing any demands to change directions or speed without notice. I can jump, run, and balance. In fact, at 48, my balance is probably better now than it’s ever been. I’m in condition to run a 5k comfortably, and have done so on several occasions since the end of my PT. It has a great impact on my physical and mental wellbeing. In fact, I don’t take any anxiety medication, despite that being an option again.”
Grateful he chose Phoenix, Ron found trust and compassion in the people who helped him recover from a terrifying event. “They were good listeners, validating my concerns. They were always kind, careful, and attentive. They were also friendly, and I think we found things to laugh about at every one of my sessions. They adjusted fine on days when I was less talkative or forthcoming. They also didn’t shy away from asking me to do challenging exercise and they gave me a decent little workout as we progressed.” Mike was impressed with Ron’s drive throughout his therapy experience. “Ron thrived, eventually achieving his goals of jogging, hiking, and returning to his active lifestyle. It was a pleasure being part of Ron’s success story and our Phoenix Team wishes Ron the best in his future endeavors!”
Ron is now pain free, and his fear is at bay. He’s back doing what he loves and would recommend physical therapy to anyone struggling to get back to life. “(Physical Therapists) are patient and informed, and motivated to help solve the mysteries of what will most efficiently promote your recovery. They will help to figure out how your case is special, what the surrounding circumstances and influences on your problem are, and they will prescribe well known solutions, while creatively developing variations for you as an individual. If I could afford it, I’d see a Physical Therapist every month, just to check in on my goals and how to best heal, maintain, and progress toward improvements.”
Ron was so touched by the people he met at Phoenix, “I secretly left some gifts under their little Christmas tree. They were books. After many weeks of talking about our interests, I felt able to make informed choices about books they’d like. That’s something I don’t think I’d feel confident doing for anyone else who's provided me medical care.”
Staying Up to Speed with Help from a Physical Therapist: Michael Stewart’s Success
“I would have never dreamed at my age I would be here. Purely by accident, after back surgery, it got me here. To excel at my age is fun.” – MichaelStewart, Flint, MI Patient
In 2018, Michael Stewart was an avid runner, participating in races for 40 years. But an injury required him to go through spinal fusion surgery. Michael’s doctor said he could not return to running for a full year, post surgery. Michael remembers the disappointment. “At that point, I had already run 35 Crims and I didn’t want to take a year off.” The Crim Festival of Races is held every year in Flint, Michigan. Thousands from around the world converge on the city to run and walk the prestigious 10 mile road race.
After his surgery, Michael was motivated to get back to the sport he loved for four decades. He successfully completed post surgical rehabilitation at Advanced Physical Therapy Center, part of the Phoenix Physical Therapy family, in Flint. He followed every instruction from his doctor who said he could walk as much as he wanted, to stay in shape as he waited to run again. He even decided to train to walk the 2018 Crim to keep his streak alive. It was during that training, he learned about racewalking. “They had someone teach a class, and I got involved. I watched videos and read books and really enjoyed it.” What is racewalking? It is much more than just walking fast. Michael describes the action. “In racewalking you must always have one foot on the ground and the heel hits the ground first. You cannot bend your knee until you are in the vertical position.” Racewalking is also different than powerwalking, which many may be more familiar with. “Powerwalking differs in that you can have a slight bend to your knee. They brought powerwalking to the Senior Olympics because not a lot of seniors could keep their leg straight. The biggest thing is I do not get hurt. Racewalking is a low impact sport; running is high impact. Apparently, I’m really good at it, so I’m sticking with it!””
‘Really good’ is an understatement. Michael quickly became one of the best racewalkers in the country in his age group. “When I first started out, my very first race, I won first overall for the men. I was excited! I didn’t think I could walk that fast. I won my second race also.” Michael’s first Crim post surgery as a racewalker? He placed second in his age group with a 10 mile time of 2:01:34! This was just the beginning for Michael. “I want to get to 50 Crims. If I just stuck with running it would have been hard. Older runners are beat up. I look at older racewalkers and some of these guys are still going really good and they don’t look beat up.”
Michael began looking ahead by setting some loftier goals. One of the largest was to make it to the Senior Olympics. Over the next several years, his training continued. His dream of competing for Olympic gold came true when he qualified for the 2022 Senior Olympics in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida after participating in the Michigan Senior games. In the months leading up to the games, Michael noticed some twinges and tightness in his back. “I blamed myself. I’m usually really good at sticking with my at home exercises, but I got away from them. I went in for an assessment and the Physical Therapist said you are really tight. I went back and they started on me again.” Michael knew the experts at Advanced PT - Flint could help get him back on track as he planned his trip to the Senior Olympics. A typical session for Michael included a quick stationary bike warmup. “Then I was doing a lot of stretching of my shoulders and hips. Then, I started doing weights. I used the kettle bell, did squats, and did the balancing table. That was helping me. It is where you are on all fours – then lift your right arm and left leg and then switch. That was a big one for me. I could really tell it was working. Many of the exercises were simple, but they were so effective.” Michael began noticing a difference in just a few weeks. “I could tell I was getting stronger. Little by little I was getting better. I started therapy in March. The Senior Olympics were in May. I relied on Advanced PT for fine tuning (ahead of the big event).”
That fine tuning worked! Michael competed against the best in the country in four races in Ft. Lauderdale. He placed fourth in the 1500 meter racewalk. He won silver in the 1500 meter powerwalk. And he won another silver in the 5K racewalk. Michael’s friend Kevin was also participating in the fourth race, a 5K powerwalk. Michael took the opportunity to perform a selfless act. “Kevin had never medaled before. His whole family was there to watch him. I’m faster than him, I know that. So, I said, come on Kevin, I’m going to pace you. At the end, I slowed up and let Kevin win the silver. I won the bronze. His whole family was so excited. It was great.”
Michael plans to keep up with his at home maintenance exercises and keep Advanced PT as part of his training team. “I learn a lot each time I go. Every therapist I had is a little bit different but each one is good. I can communicate with them. If I’m a little sore here or there, they come back with new exercises to try to fix each issue. I’ve been to a couple other places. I like Advanced better. Everyone is great. They know what they are doing, and they like their jobs.”
Michael’s next adventure is to compete at the Worlds in Poland, which he is already qualified for. “I would have never dreamed at my age I would be here. Purely by accident after back surgery that it got me there. To excel at my age is fun.”
Creating a Custom Therapy Program to Help a Young
Live her Dream: Emmy Ruley’s Success Story
Emma Ruley has her whole life ahead of her. She is a biology major and a college athlete. But a stroke at the age of 17 almost took all that away. “I woke up in the middle of the night and I couldn’t feel my right side. When I got out of bed, I fell because I couldn’t use my right side. I crawled down the stairs in tears. I did not know what was going on.” Emma’s mother heard her cries. She was in disbelief. Emma remembers showing her how she could not hold her phone. “I put my phone in my right hand and it just rolled off my fingertips. She brought me into her room to show my dad and figure out what to do.” Emma’s parents brought her to the closest hospital. It was midnight and very few specialists were working, so Emma had to wait a grueling nine hours for doctors to reveal she had an ischemic stroke.
Emma needed expert help. She was airlifted to Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware where a specialist determined surgery needed to be performed immediately. “There was a blood clot, and it was traveling down the ocular side of my brain. If they waited, I would be blind. I said do whatever you can to pull out the clot.” The surgery was a success. “I woke up in the hospital bed. My right arm was taped up from the incision. They didn’t have to go through my head. They fed a catheter through my wrist to my brain and pulled out the clot. I was there for a week. I got various blood tests and other tests to make sure I would be ok. That’s when they discovered a hole in my heart. They told me the hole in my heart wasn’t the cause of the stroke, but it allowed the clot to travel to my brain.” The hole would need to be repaired, but not until Emma was stronger.
Emma’s doctors sent her home with some medication and orders to begin physical and occupational therapy. “I couldn’t run. I couldn’t use steps. I could shuffle
around. My arm was usable, but everything was slow and heavy. It was really hard to move.” Emma and her family chose Phoenix Physical Therapy in Selbyville, Delaware. Emma had been there before, working with Clinic Director, Dominick Policare, PT, DPT. “I play lacrosse, and during a game I injured my knee. I really enjoyed the experience. Dom included agility stuff to make sure I was getting stronger and ready for field hockey season. He had a great program. So, when I had the stroke, I wanted to go back to him. I was already comfortable with him.”
Emma’s first therapy session was about a week after her stroke. “Dom was confused why I was back. He was shocked. To be honest, it was hard being there. (The other patients) don’t know your story. Some of the things I was doing were simple, but they don’t understand the whole purpose of them. Dom was great. He was understanding.” Dom created a unique plan based on Emma’s goals. She wanted to get back to playing the sports she loved. She planned on playing field hockey in college. “I used everything in the clinic. I used the Alter G.” The Alter G Anti Gravity Treadmill uses a pressurized air chamber to reduce the gravitational pull on the body. Emma was able to walk and run in the Alter G without restriction. “You can set it to take a certain amount of weight off your body. My right side felt really heavy. It took the pressure and weight off. I could run freely without worrying about tripping. It was perfect for my situation. I genuinely thought I wasn’t going to play sports again. That Alter G really got me back to running and got me ready to play sports again.”
Dom pushed Emma to work hard. He knew it was essential for her recovery, and so did Emma. “I would say I got better every week after I was out of the hospital. Dom was telling my mom and me, the faster I get involved in therapy the faster my recovery would be. I did a lot of band work and used small weights on my right arm. I think that made things move quickly.” Emma worked hard at home too. “They gave tons of bands to use at home.
I was also playing with a field hockey stick with one hand. It was two to three weeks into therapy, and I was able to do it much more easily. I was improving!”
Emma spent several months with the Selbyville team. She also had the hole in her heart surgically repaired. “I am completely healed. Early in the morning my hand is a little shaky, but that doesn’t last more than an hour. My vision gets a little blurry on one side, but that’s just a side effect of the stroke. It’s not bad at all. I am pretty much 100 percent better!”
It was hard for Emma to sit out most of the lacrosse season, but with help from her therapists and her inspirational determination, Emma is back playing lacrosse and field hockey. “After this whole thing, it makes me want to play so much more. I took it all for granted. My first game back I scored a goal. The next few games I was able to stay in the entire game. The physical therapy really helped. I was scared my stamina was going to change but it didn’t, and the agility exercises really helped me.” Dom admires Emma’s spirit which he knows will take her far. “Emma came to therapy every day determined to get better and back on the playing field. She listened carefully and diligently performed her exercises in the clinic as well as at home. Emma was always up for the challenge no matter how big or small the task. She remained positive throughout her rehabilitation and is one of the strongest patients I have ever worked with both physically and mentally."
Emma is grateful for the support she received during her recovery. “The people at Phoenix were very encouraging. They had a lot of sympathy for me when I first came in. They talked to me about sports to get my mind off things happening in my medical life. They made it fun too. I just want to give them a big thank you. I couldn’t do it without them. I would probably be on the couch right now if it wasn’t for them.”
Safe, Confident and on the Road to Being Pain-Free Again:
Kay Fritzsching’s Success Story
Kay Fritzsching has always been active. She loves yoga and walking on the treadmill, and knows exercise is important as you age. “I’m 68 years old. As we get older we lose muscle mass. It is just one of those things that you don’t notice until you go to do something, and you can’t do it anymore.” Kay began to notice pain in her hip. It stopped her from doing the things she loved to do, so she asked her doctor for advice. Kay’s doctor prescribed physical therapy to see if it would alleviate some of that pain. She chose Advanced Physical Therapy Center, part of the Phoenix Physical Therapy family, in Grand Blanc, Michigan. She had been to Advanced PT before and so had her husband. It was an easy choice to head right back to the PT team she knew.
Kay was shocked when she realized how difficult simple tasks had become. Physical Therapist, Jason Sosnowski, PT, DPT began her sessions with strengthening exercises that mimicked those tasks. “I could barely stand up from sitting in a chair. It was very difficult. I could do it, but it was very difficult. And that’s what made me think, oh my gosh, I’m going to have to be doing this in pain for the rest of my life. Getting onto a toilet seat and up from the toilet were just a few of the things I had trouble doing.” Kay continued therapy, which included home strengthening exercises, for several days. But the pain became too much. Tests revealed her hip joint had progressed to being bone on bone and replacement became a necessity.
The physical therapy sessions Kay did before her surgery were not a waste. In fact, Kay feels they prepared her for rehabilitation, post surgery. “I was very fortunate to have Jason give me an exercise routine before the surgery. I noticed that if I hadn’t done that, my muscles would not have been as strong going into the surgery. I did similar exercises before and after surgery. Because I had done them before I knew what I was able to do then, and what I couldn’t do after the surgery. It was so helpful.”
According to the American College of Rheumatology, 450 thousand hip replacements
are done in the United States each year, and post surgical physical therapy is recommended for nearly every case. While the surgery takes care of the joint problem, the surrounding muscles need to be stretched and strengthened to properly support the new joint. Kay’s post-surgical rehabilitation was eight weeks of hard work. “The first two weeks I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere. The third week I felt better. The fourth week was even better.” Her therapy sessions included leg lifts, working with weights, and walking practice using a walker, then a cane, and then without any support. Kay remembers Charles Hubbell, PTA helping her with some tough decisions. “I wasn’t really sure about when to progress from one thing to the next, and Charles was the one who suggested moving from the walker to the cane. If I hadn’t had his guidance, I would have used it improperly. I could have delayed progress. At one point, I told him I forgot my cane at home. He laughed, watched me walk the circle, and said, ‘You’re fine. You don’t need that cane.’ I wanted to jump for joy. I didn’t want to be dependent on something.”
Charles continued his work with Kay guiding her each step of the way, which she believes is essential after going through major surgery. “(Charles) was able to tell me when it was time to go a little bit harder. One time, we added a weight that was heavier, and I was sore for two days. Charles said, ‘No problem, we will drop it down again.’ He listened to me. That’s so important to listen to the patient. I didn’t want to be a wimp either. I told Charles if he thought I should be doing something we should work on it.” Kay is grateful for the entire Advanced PT Grand Blanc team. “I felt like I was coming to a place where I was accepted. The girls at the front desk call me by name and were sincere about it. I got to know several staff members and they were so kind. It’s like a family. That is so important. When you are down and out, and your body is against you, you need a cheering crowd to say, ‘It’s against you now, but you will get better. You can do it.’ I thoroughly trusted them because they really know what they’re doing. I felt safe and confident.”
Kay is now back on the treadmill and doing her PT exercises daily. She is also working more yoga into her routine. “My other goal is to exercise even more than what I’m doing now. I would love to play pickle ball and do more walking. I can’t wait to be able to walk anywhere and do anything without any pain at all. I have to be patient. It’s not going to happen overnight. Hip replacement recovery is usually a full year. It takes time.” But Kay believes physical therapy gave her the strength to continue her recovery journey and succeed in getting back to doing all the things she loves to do. “You need to do (physical therapy) in a good healthy environment. You can’t just do the exercises at home. Sometimes I would do the exercises wrong and Charles would stop me. It’s easy to forget what you need to do. You need guidance and to be led. Sometimes you can get lazy too. For a healthy recovery you need the support and I feel good that you get that at Advanced. I hope I don’t need to come back for a long time. But if I need to, I will come back here.”
Living the Dream after Decades of Pain: Rick Niehe’s Success Story
“I didn’t expect miracles, I expected mitigation. I got a miracle!” Rick Niehe , Irmo, SC Patient
Rick Niehe served our country for three decades. During his military career, two major back injuries left him battling pain for years. “My first injury was in 1985. I fell on cement steps and the step edge hit me on the lower, right side of my back.” Rick’s fall left him with 2 badly injured discs. He asked about surgery, but his doctor said the damage was not significant enough to require it. Rick remembers he was given pain pills and prescribed physical therapy. “I did okay until 1988 when the spring loaded cargo cover of an armored personnel carrier’s safety latch malfunctioned. The heavy hatch lid struck me in the lower back. It was the identical spot where I hit the cement steps.” Again, he was given more pain medication and prescribed another round of physical therapy. Rick thinks back on his years of serving our country. “I was better, but never right. Through the years, finishing my service career, Advil and Tylenol were my best friends to mitigate the nagging pain. I was just getting through it. When I retired I was looking forward to living the dream.”
Rick retired in 2015 but he was not living the dream. “If I would go to the grocery store, I couldn’t be there very long because of the concrete floors. I couldn’t stand for more than 45 minutes before my back would lock up. I love woodworking. I found I couldn’t bend over the saws.” Rick lived that way for six years. His wife became used to him having chronic back pain, keeping the heating pad ready. Rick recalls after a particularly bad episode, “I was fed up with it. I went to my Veterans Affairs doctor and asked about treatment. They recommended physical therapy.” But the VA Physical Therapist was not able to see Rick for 3 months. Rick knows, if the VA is not able to schedule an appointment within 30 days, he is free to seek outside treatment. Rick’s wife and son attended therapy at Phoenix Physical Therapy in
Irmo, South Carolina, and were extremely happy with their results. Rick inquired about going there and discovered Phoenix is on the VA preferred provider list. Rick is grateful to Phoenix Patient Care Coordinator, Allison Baskins. “She just worked miracles! Within a week it was all lined up. I went from needing to wait three months to getting an appointment for treatment in a matter of days.”
Rick was hopeful physical therapy at Phoenix would help him find some relief from the severe pain he was experiencing. “My civilian doctor tried to send me to a different physical therapy place, but they hurt me. I didn’t expect to be hurt (at Phoenix) because my son and wife went there. I didn’t expect miracles either, I expected mitigation. I got a miracle!”
Rick knew this round of physical therapy would be different after his first day at the clinic. Clinic Director, Brittany Powers Berlinrut, DPT, FAAOMPT met with Rick. “(She) came out and we had a short sit down introduction. I explained my two severe injuries and we discussed how the other physical therapy folks hurt me. I told her I was just plain tired and asked if she could help me. She said, ‘do you have 20 minutes? I can fix this for you.’ I felt special. She began moving me around and did something to my lower back and I lit up like a candle. That day I felt better.”
Brittany asked Rick to come back for his first full session the very next day. He agreed and felt confident he was in the right place.
Rick describes a typical session on his road to recovery. “We normally started out with a warmup on the bike. Then, she had me go through stretching movements. She also introduced me to the big grey ball that I would roll forward and in different directions. We would do hip rolls and leg stretches. Then, she went into the muscle movements with the resistance bands. She gave me at home exercises to do too. I did those before I went to my sessions.” Rick reveals one treatment worked so well, it made him feel like he could start living the life he wanted. “She introduced me to the ultimate: dry needling! My back felt so good after that first session. When you are in pain for so long, any release is amazing. I just felt strong. I went to the grocery store. I cut wood. The pain mitigation was literally after the first session. It lasted two to three days and then the pain came back. She told me it would. I lived the dream for those days. I was doing everything I hadn’t done in years.” This was just the beginning for Rick. He knew the road to recovery would be long, but the taste of living pain free set him on track to rebuild the strength he had lost. “I broke a sweat darn near every time I was there. They would try the needles again to see if it would be more sustaining. The pain went away, right away. This time it lasted a good 5 days. Then it came back. This was all orchestrated. I had no surprises. This was the plan. 2 months of doing this routine.”
Rick started therapy in January 2022. Soon, he was able to do things he only dreamed of. “I joined a gym 2 years ago for strength training, but I could only do half the exercises because my back would begin to hurt. In March, I was able to get through my first full gym exercise routine with no pain. The gym owner announced it over the loudspeaker. There were a bunch of military veterans there and they were all clapping and high fiving. I felt like a rock star! I told my wife, and we celebrated by going out to dinner that night. I will remember that day forever.”
Rick continues to do his maintenance exercises prescribed by Brittany and goes to the gym, completing his whole routine each time without pain. But he knows the Irmo team will be there for him if he does too much. “I was moving a lot of boxes thinking I was 19 again. Something snapped in my back, and I hobbled into Brittany that day. She asked what I was doing, and I told her. She said, ‘you are 67!’ She did her magic, and I was back to myself in 3 weeks.” Rick also trained with Chandler Powell, DPT and Anne Wilson, PTA. “Every session it seemed like I was getting a notch on the gun belt of good back health. They got it fixed in the time they said. I just love those people.” Brittany is convinced Rick will continue down the road of good back health. “He worked hard each day and came in with such a positive attitude despite his years of pain and limitations. By the time he was discharging from physical therapy, he had learned so much and was able to independently control any minor recurrences of pain and get himself back to being pain free without any help from us, which is always the goal for us; to give people the control of their lives back so they can feel better and do more!”
Rick has new goals now that he does not need to worry about pain. “I’m taking control. I want to go to the next program at my gym. I want to do the bodybuilding program. I have an 18x20 shed and I want to double that. I’m an avid model railroader. I have a railroad gobbling up my living room and I want to add holes in my walls and make it bigger. I like being able to live the dream. I’m going to rebuild the shed and play with trains. It sounds simple, but it’s wholesome fun.” And Rick is grateful to the Irmo team for helping him reach this point in his life. “I felt like they have such a good communication network there. They are continually checking on you, kind of like your mom. When I over did it, Brittany corrected me. She wasn’t scared to tell me how it was. It was like a family relationship. Now, I’m an old guy that’s a shining example that you don’t need to be a decrepit old guy.”
Rick has a clear picture of what the rest of his life will be and offers this advice to others. “Do a checkup from the neck up on yourself. Look out for your own quality of life. You’ve earned a good quality of life no matter who you are or what you are. Everyone has aches and pains. Except me! I am pain free now!”
Beating the Odds: Mike Ingrassia’s Success Story
An upper respiratory infection, then COVID, then bacterial pneumonia, then sepsis. Mike Ingrassia faced an uphill battle that seemed insurmountable. It landed him in the ICU, intubated. “My lungs were completely gone at that point. They had to medically induce me into a coma. I was out of it for a solid month. My family was terrified.” Mike survived, but had a long recovery ahead of him. “We somehow got through. There were a lot of good people working on me but when you come out of it after a month, your neurons aren’t firing right in your head.”
The doctors began to assess the damage done to Mike’s body while he was in the coma. “I couldn’t walk because of muscle atrophy. I couldn’t move my right arm at all.” Mike suffered nerve damage in his arm. He’s not sure how it happened but one theory is the virus caused the damage which led to Parsonage Turner Syndrome. Mike saw several specialists over the next few weeks and physical therapy started right away. Once he was a bit stronger, he went to an inpatient rehabilitation center. “We would have sessions three times a day. I started from the ground up. I was trying to figure out how to walk again and feed myself. I knew I had kids at home that I really wanted to get back to and a life that I wanted to get back to.”
Mike completed his time at the rehabilitation center. He could write his name and feed himself but there was a lot of hard work still ahead. He transitioned from a wheelchair to a walker, just before discharge. “My lungs were still in rotten shape with my blood oxygen levels in the low 90s. There was still cause for concern.”
Mike needed to start outpatient rehabilitation immediately to build on his inpatient progress. “We live in Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania. My wife had done all the research. She made phone calls asking what each facility could potentially do for me. I was in bad shape, and some facilities flat out told her I was out of their realm of expertise. Phoenix Physical Therapy in Gilbertsville indicated they were able to help. We actually figured out everything during my first session.” Physical Therapist, Kristen Sassaman and the Gilbertsville team created a plan tailored just for him to help Mike achieve his goals. “Obviously I wanted to be walking unassisted. I couldn’t move my arm. It was
stuck. I wanted to be able to take a deep breath again without worrying my lungs were going to give out on me. I bought some breathing exercise devices Kristen recommended and got started right away. We started noticing oxygen increases almost immediately.”
Mike’s sessions at Phoenix included cardio exercises. “I walked on the treadmill. I did very light activities and working on things like sitting to standing to get my legs back.” He admits he got frustrated sometimes, but he was not alone. “I had a great supporting cast around me. (My therapists), my wife, my kids, my extended family. People from my work reached out to me. They just wanted me to take my time and get back.” Soon, Mike saw some exciting progress. First, he graduated from using a walker to using a cane. But the cane didn’t last long. “I was on the cane for maybe two and half weeks. I was very nervous and scared but Kristen had a harness and I just let go of the cane. It worked! I was walking without the cane. That was a huge mental boost. It made me feel accomplished. My wife was there, and she was obviously very emotional.”
The hard work continued, and Mike’s team, which now included Clinic Director, Lauren Brennan, PT, DPT, CMPT, began targeting his arm. “We did a lot of strengthening activities in the doorway, assisted stretching, scapular release, and resistance bands. I saw results in a few weeks. I started off with a one pound weight which was literally all I could tolerate. Soon, I was up to lifting 15 pounds.” Mike’s plan also included sessions aimed at gaining strength, stability, and mobility. “I’ve always been a believer in physical activity. Playing sports with my kids again was a huge goal for me. The doctors were friendly, but realistic. They told me I may not get back to where I was before. They thought I might reach 60% and that would be a huge accomplishment. We way surpassed that. I’m almost back to 100% now.”
Mike is grateful for the three months he spent at the Phoenix Gilbertsville clinic, and feels the entire team played a role in his recovery. Patient Care Coordinator,
April Rutherford, “was there from the beginning. She was so informative. She always asked how I was feeling. I felt comfortable and safe.” April was impressed with Mike’s dedication to his recovery. “Mike's determination and passion will leave a long lasting impression. His motivation to recover and to achieving his goals is something I will never forget. I am grateful that I was able to be there to assist him in achieving these goals.”
Mike still has goals and plans to keep doing his home exercises to reach them. “I want to continue to play sports and get better. We play football, basketball, and wiffle ball. I told Lauren I wanted to throw a curve ball again, and before I left she worked on it with me. Everything I went through there worked! Without their pushing and support I would not be where I am today. I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone. I’m lightyears beyond where I thought I would be mentally and physically.”
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