Emergency rooms save lives, but rehabilitation rebuilds lives

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Several years ago, our hospital staff had the privilege of getting to know a young man and his family while he was being treated at Walton Rehabilitation Health System.

AFTER A TERRIBLE car crash, this young man was left with a severe brain injury and other physical injuries. He wasn’t able to speak, and his movements were limited. The family still has videos from that time, and it’s heartbreaking to watch this formerly vibrant young man, now with a stoic face, painfully going through motions as guided by his therapist.

But we believed, and his family believed, that he would come back to us. Together, we worked hard, through inpatient rehab, and later outpatient therapy.

Fast-forward to today, and he is that vibrant young man once again. He may move a little more slowly, but he’s working. He’s taking care of his grandfather. He’s singing karaoke on Friday nights with friends. And he’s living his life again.

That is what successful rehabilitation is all about.

Rehabilitation has never been a focus of prime-time TV medical dramas, but maybe it should be. Emergency rooms save lives, but rehabilitation helps rebuild lives.

It’s also a major part of the health care-continuum, including acute rehabilitation, post-acute rehabilitation, outpatient rehabilitation and long-term-care rehabilitation. Sometimes there are astounding medical miracles, but for the most part, successful rehabilitation involves hard work by the therapist, patient and family – all working together to help return the patient to the best life possible.

JUST THIS YEAR, we saw a man sidelined by spinal cord injury come to life again as he rode our functional electrical stimulation cycle. We watched as another young man – an amputee – raced around our lawn on an artificial limb during a therapy session. And our smiles matched that of a stroke patient’s as she moved pegs on a board – a small feat to most of us, but a major accomplishment for her because it meant she was regaining use of her hand.

Successful rehabilitation helps patients recover from catastrophic injury so they can return to work, live independently and continue to live lives with their families – but it also helps patients learn how to navigate around their homes in a wheelchair; how to button a shirt or tie shoes when hands have lost fine motor function; and how to use problem-solving skills we all take for granted while we’re at the grocery store or the bank.

National Rehabilitation Awareness Week is Sept. 16-22, and we encourage you to think about the role of rehab in your life or in the life of someone you know. Therapists take many forms, working to help patients recover strength, speech and ability to live independently after stroke, surgery, joint replacement, sports injury, brain injury, accidental injury, amputation and spinal cord injury, just to name a few.

WE ARE FORTUNATE to have a number of local rehabilitation facilities involved in our health-care continuum, including our own health system. And as health-care reform continues to affect all of us across the nation, we look forward to growth in rehabilitation services and increased access for the patients who need us.

(The writer is the president and chief executive officer of Walton Rehabilitation Health System in Augusta.)


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