Kelly's Story: 37-Year-Old Wife and Mom Overcomes Neck-Down Paralysis
I'm a wife and mother and I loved exercising, I loved extreme sports. I had a flu bug, an odd flu bug with my muscle and joint aches and pains and an odd rash. I had that for about a week and my right arm just all of a sudden paralyzed. I could not move it. Nothing. Six hours later my other arm started paralyzed. I continued to get progressively worse.
I saw many different doctors and they just couldn't find what was wrong with me. And then it started affecting my hips and my legs. They started getting really weak. A friend of a friend said I think that you have Lyme disease, and went to a Lyme- literate doctor and, come to find out, I had a diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease.
I started on oral antibiotics and I kind of just plateaued after about four weeks. The antibiotics were starting to take a toll on my body. My Lyme doc said I needed a break. On day 6 of being off the antibiotics, I woke up completely paralyzed from my neck down. To go from such an active wonderful world to be completely paralyzed was surreal. I was sent to Kindred Care Greenbriar in Nashua, New Hampshire, and that is where I met the most phenomenal people. My team, my OT Stacy, and my PT Steve. I just went into her room and met her and her husband and they were just the sweetest people ever.
It was a difficult transfer because she really had no muscle control from her head down. I guess the only thing I could compare it to is maybe someone who's had a severe stroke. She really didn't have neck control to even look side-to-side. She didn't have any kind of sitting balance. I mean she was a total assist for doing any kind of movement. This was a very important time. It was either gonna make her or break her, so right away I knew that we had to try to do everything that we could to, you know, get her stronger and get her better.
My expectation of rehabilitation was to get me as independent as possible in a wheelchair. She had some realistic thoughts like I may never get out of this wheelchair, but she didn't let it interrupt her mood and she didn't let it interrupt her therapy. I decided to look at it as I was going to claim whatever I had and make the best of that. I saw hope in her and I saw determination. With her diagnosis there was no sort of textbook that we could follow. I mean, we asked her to do some crazy things. They just non-stop thought of different ways of how to get my body back and it would respond every time.
Luckily we were able to treat the whole person, which is what we always want to do. Some of the exercises that we do can be kind of monotonous, you know, so you can shake it up and make it fun. It helps those hours go by. I think that helped. We just kept pushing her and she never gave up. We could have gone to the moon and back with her because she just... She would have been up for it. She's the hardest-working patient I've ever had.
And even on her worst days, she never let it get her down. Very inspiring. Very inspiring to the therapist, very inspiring to the other patients here. And it just worked for all of us. I mean we are like a family.
They never ever gave up on me. They never stopped believing in me and it was... I call it "blood, sweat, but absolutely no tears" because it was just smiles and cheers, and never looking back, just keep looking forward, just keep moving on to the next step. It's simple things that are taken away.
You realize what's truly important in life and one of my goals was to be able to hug my children, and, you know, Stacy's just selfless determination and just working repetition, repetition, repetition, she got my arms back! Oh gosh, I remember she was able to give her son a hug for the first time, you know. And I don't even know how long. We kept it a secret.
I was in my wheelchair as normal with my arms down and I looked at my children and I said, "Lean in guys, lean in, I have something to tell you..." And as they leaned in, I just lifted my arms and I put it around, just squeezed. That feeling of being hugged and that feeling of being able to give a hug is absolutely not of this earth. We just really couldn't believe it, really couldn't believe it. You'd break down and a tear would come sometimes. Just amazing. This is why we do this. This is why it's worth it. My kids had tears, but they also had a look of such pride, and between the hug and the pride, I went what more am I going to be able to do? Steve and Stacey discussed that we're going to get her walking and they said no matter how many staff people it takes to hold her, we're going to get her brain connected to a walking motion.
Slowly but surely my body would start to recognize what I did last time. And, you know, my neck would start to get stronger and that would kick in, my hips would get stronger and that would start to kick in, my feet would start to recognize the ground and like a walking motion, and my knees would start to recognize a walking motion... Steve would hold my hand and Stacey would hold my hand and they would just walk me and walk me and walk me and then slowly it became where I only had to hold one of their hands. And I started to have visions of when I got home, am I gonna be able to walk up the small hill to my house? They put those dreams in my head that I didn't even have there, but it was like that would be beyond a dream come true. And holding somebody's hand and having them walk and walk with me, and walk side-by-side the people that were saving my life, and walk side-by-side my heroes shoulder-to-shoulder. It's just them again. It's a blessing that I realized God gives you, you know, it makes you see what is really life is about. I just remember the day that I left Greenbriar.
My family came to get me. Steve and Stacy weren't there that day, we had said our goodbyes the day before and that was between the three of us because it was just an amazing experience of, you know, just three kindred spirits, having to let me go and see how I would do. My kids and my husband came to get me and we have pictures. I felt like it was the most heavenly experience that I could ever imagine and I came home and I walked up the hill to my house, and I walked up the three steps and I had my hand and I twisted and opened the door to my house and I came home and I just sat there wishing that all of Greenbriar could be a fly on the wall to see what they just gave me back... They not only gave me moments, but they gave me moments that took my breath away. I've been doing this for 25 years plus and nothing I can compare where she started from to where she ended up. It makes me be very thankful that I became a therapist, that you can impact not just her life but the lives of her whole family. It was an honor to work with her.
It really was. When she first came in I was, like I said, I was intimidated and we didn't have a textbook to follow. So she says that we helped her. She really helped me to realize that I can do this and no matter, you know, how tough the situation is I can help patients. So she helped me in that way. Nobody else could have done that like she did. Every day is pretty much a moment that takes my breath away, and I don't take one single day for granted.
And Greenbriar is with me every single day. And I told them, I said I will always smile to represent Greenbriar. That's my smile. Represents what they did for me and how they saved my life.
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