Overcoming Obstacles: How Inpatient Rehabilitation Helped Mike Learn to Walk Again
The first indication something was wrong with Mike Drumm was when he tried to unscrew a bottle of water that had already been opened. His hands were so weak he could not do it. Unsure as to what was happening he decided to wait to see how he felt the next day. When he climbed out of bed the following morning he had trouble walking. Mike’s wife, Pam, had seen enough. She quickly drove Mike the short few blocks from their Sandusky residence to the Emergency Room at Firelands Regional Medical Center.
“After the ER doctors had examined me and asked me several questions, one of them knew right away what I had – Guillain-Barré syndrome,” remembers Mike.
A relatively rare disease, Guillain-Barré syndrome occurs when the body's immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. The first symptoms of this disorder include varying degrees of weakness or tingling sensations in the legs. In many instances, the weakness and abnormal sensations spread to the arms and upper body. These symptoms can increase in intensity until the muscles cannot be used at all and the patient is almost totally paralyzed.
Usually Guillain-Barré syndrome occurs a few days or weeks after the patient has had a respiratory or gastrointestinal viral infection. Occasionally, surgery will trigger the syndrome. The disorder can develop over the course of hours or days, or it may take up to three to four weeks. It is not known why Guillain-Barré strikes some people and not others or what sets the disease in motion. What is known is that the body's immune system begins to attack the body itself, causing an autoimmune disease.
Three days after he was admitted to Firelands Regional Medical Center, Mike celebrated his 65th birthday. Mike was in the intensive care unit (ICU), paralyzed from the neck down, breathing with the aid of a ventilator and receiving nourishment through a feeding tube inserted in his nose.
The standard treatment for Guillain-Barré is to remove or block the proteins that attack the nerve cells, called antibodies, by using high-dose immunoglobulin therapy (IVIG). The immunoglobulins are added to the blood in large quantities through IVs, blocking the antibodies that cause inflammation. Mike was given six treatments of IVIG. He gradually was able to move again, and after one and a half weeks in ICU, was transferred to the Inpatient Rehabilitation Program at Firelands Regional Medical Center.
“I started rehab very strong, really pushing myself, but instead of becoming stronger, I felt weaker,” says Mike. “After a week in rehab I had a relapse and the paralysis happened again. This time, the nerves affected were in my chest and diaphragm, causing me to slowly suffocate.”
Mike was given two options - he could receive more IVIG therapy at Firelands, or he could be transferred to Cleveland, where he could undergo plasmapheresis, a procedure used to remove the antibodies from the blood. The process involves taking blood from the body, usually from the arm, pumping it into a machine that removes the antibodies, and then sending it back into the body. He chose the plasmapheresis.
After spending a week and a half in Cleveland, where he received seven plasmapheresis treatments, Mike returned to the Inpatient Rehabilitation Program at Firelands Regional Medical Center. “When I left Firelands, I told the rehab nurses I would be back. Later I learned that most of them were afraid I wouldn’t. The doctors in Cleveland thought the same thing a few times during my stay there,” remembers Mike.
Mike did make it back to rehab, and he surpassed all expectations. “For most of my stay I worked with student therapist Brian Sabo. We hit it off right away. He would push me, I would push back, and he pushed me harder. I credit myself, Brian and my wife for my recovery. We are the ones who turned me around,” says Mike. “When I left Cleveland, the doctors told my wife not to expect me to walk for six months to a year and it might take two years for me to recover completely. When I was discharged after six weeks of inpatient rehab at Firelands I was able to walk with the aid of a walker.”
Adds Pam, “Patty Gerber (Brian’s supervisor) and Brian spent many hours and a lot of hard work getting Mike to walk again. Everyone was cheering and there weren’t too many dry eyes when Mike walked less than six weeks after he began rehab. We have never experienced such dedication and commitment to helping someone. Enough can’t be said about the support and encouragement they gave Mike.”
Pam and Mike’s gratitude also extend to all the nurses, orderlies, and other rehab team members, including his case manager Donna Furrer. “She is one of the most helpful and kindest people I’ve ever met. Not only did she keep us informed and up-to-date on all issues, but she was very helpful with all our insurance questions and problems,” says Pam. “Dr. Christopher Parnell, Mike’s rehab doctor, was very encouraging. We both admire and respect him.”
After being discharged from the Inpatient Rehabilitation Program at Firelands Regional Medical Center, Mike continued his rehab in the outpatient program at Firelands for another four weeks. Six months after his symptoms began, he returned to his job as a process application engineer at JBT Food Tech (formerly Sam Stein Associates) in Sandusky. Mike has since retired. He has little residual effects from his illness. His legs aren’t quite as strong and he cannot straighten the fingers on his left hand. “For some reason my left hand was so swollen I was unable to do therapy. Because of that the tendons shrank, but my fingers still work. I can do about 95 percent of what I use to do.”
Today Mike spends his summers with Pam working seven acres of property they own near Ashland. Pam, a master gardener cultivates several flower gardens, and Mike enjoys mowing the grass and helping Pam however he can. This past winter he began volunteering at Firelands Regional Medical Center in the Inpatient Rehabilitation Program’s physical therapy department, helping the staff as well as offering encouragement to patients.
“Rehab can be very tough,” said Mike. “I know because I went through it myself. It’s easy to become depressed and discouraged. If I see a patient who is ready to give up I tell them my story and how difficult rehab was for me. Most of the time that makes them work harder, and that makes me feel like I am really helping them. I also like to joke around and get the patients to laugh. Seeing them smile while they’re straining so hard to do an exercise is a great feeling.”
What is Inpatient Rehabilitation?
Firelands Regional Medical Center provides the region’s only Inpatient Rehabilitation Program, which is a much more intensive program than rehabilitation offered as outpatient or at skilled nursing facilities.
Firelands Regional Medical Center Inpatient Rehabilitation offers an intensive therapy program for patients transitioning from the hospital or post-surgery, for example. Patients benefit from their stay on the Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit because:
- Therapy is provided a minimum of 15 hours per week as compared to other facilities that may only provide 3 - 5 hours of therapy per week;
- Therapies are provided by a consistent staff of Physical, Occupational, and Speech Therapists;
- Physicians are specialized in Rehabilitation Medicine (Physiatry);
- Physicians are accessible daily and medically manage patients compared to other facilities in which physicians are only required to see patients monthly;
- Nurses are Certified and Registered in Rehabilitation Nursing (CRRN);
- RNs are on staff 24/7 compared to other programs where RNs may not be available on every shift;
- There is 1 RN/LPN and 1 Rehab Technician for every 10 patients - far above the state minimum of 1 State Tested Nurses Aide (STNA) for every 15 patients.
For more information about Firelands Regional Medical Center’s Inpatient Rehabilitation Program, call 419-557-7836 or learn more here.