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Learning to Sit, Stand and Walk Again After COVID-19

By Laura McAlister

It started with a pounding headache, but within a matter of days it developed into much more. 
Veronica Brown was diagnosed with COVID-19 on July 4th. Three days later she was having trouble breathing and was admitted to the hospital. A week later, she was in the ICU. The 52-year-old doesn’t remember anything that happened the next month while she was on a ventilator. 

Brown woke on Aug. 20, barely aware of where she was and what she’d been through. She was weak and unable to do anything for herself.

“Questions ran through my mind,” Brown recalled. “’Am I ever going to be normal again? Can I take care of my son?’”

Starting rehabilitation 
Brown was transferred to Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital to recover and regain her strength. She was unsure of what therapy would look like at the time. “I remember how hard it was for me to do anything, to even sit up,” she said. Her limited mobility prompted Dr. Yang, her physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor, to have her sent back to the hospital for neurological testing, which included an MRI, spinal tap and CT scan of the spine.

The testing revealed a new, post-COVID-19 diagnosis for Brown—she had Guillain-Barre syndrome, an inflammatory disorder of the nerves that may cause temporary paralysis and is often triggered by a viral infection. 

With the new diagnosis, Brown headed back to Encompass Health to continue her therapy. Her goals were simple, yet seemed insurmountable at the time.

“I was pretty much paralyzed when I got here,” she said. “My main goal was for me to just be able to stand and walk again. Everyone had faith in me, and we built our trust with each other.”

Learning to walk again
Using a standing frame, therapists helped Brown relearn to stand for longer periods of time. Eventually she was able to stand for 20 minutes at a time. Once she reached that goal, her therapists challenged her to work on walking. They used the AutoAmbulator, a sophisticated treadmill developed by Encompass Health that uses robotics to help patients learn to walk again.

Brown also worked on a NuStep, a recumbent cross trainer, to strengthen both her upper and lower body.

When not working in the gym with her therapy team, Brown continued her rehabilitation in her room, building her strength and endurance using a hospital bed trapeze bar to practice getting up and down.
Eventually, Brown reached that simple goal of walking again.

She was at Encompass Health for 42 days. Thanks to her care team, Brown said she was able to recover and get back to the life she feared she might have lost to COVID-19.

“The staff at Encompass Health is exceptional,” she said. “Being away from family and friends is hard. The staff is respectful, professional and understanding of my situation. The positivity that is spread and the coordination between different disciplines between nursing, physicians, therapy and case management is remarkable.”

To learn more about Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Sewickley, visit encompasshealth.com/sewickleyrehab. To learn more about Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Harmarville, visit encompasshealth.com/harmarvillerehab.

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