As an artist and tai chi instructor, 80-year-old Paula Weiner was used to leading an active life. Even a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease in 2009 didn’t stop her from teaching or taking daily walks. Then a bad fall and infection left her weak and unable to walk. In March 2015, Weiner was taken by ambulance to Weiss Hospital, where she was treated for her fall and prescribed antibiotics for the infection.
“I was in bad shape,” Paula said. “I was stiff and suffering from edema. I was afraid I’d never be able to walk again.”
Painfully shy and not one to ask for help, Paula was initially against any sort of physical therapy to treat her disease. But then she met gynecologist David Deutsch, M.D., at Weiss Memorial Hospital.
“Dr. Deutsch is my savior,” she says. “He is so kind, and has this personality that just puts you at ease. He helped me gain the confidence I needed to help myself.”
Because of a uterine prolapse — a condition that causes the uterus to drop into the vaginal canal due to weakened support muscles — Paula was scheduled for a hysterectomy, a surgical procedure that removes the uterus through an incision in her lower abdomen. But before the surgery could be performed, she needed to regain some of her strength. To do that, Dr. Deutsch recommended physical and occupational therapy.
A multifaceted approach to Parkinson’s therapy
Paula’s therapy had a multipronged approach. To improve the weakness in her legs, manual soft tissue manipulation was used, along with strengthening exercises to help increase her range of motion. To combat the deficiencies caused by Parkinson’s, she was taught specific exercises to improve her balance and gait. Occupational therapy, which included working with clay and painting, two of Paula’s favorite hobbies, helped strengthen her hands. To help with the speech impairments caused by Parkinson’s, Paula was visited by a speech therapist who taught her how to conserve her energy and improve her non-verbal communication skills. After three weeks of therapy at Weiss, Paula was able to walk with the assistance of a walker and her strength and speech were greatly improved. Paula is now not only walking, she’s practicing tai chi again.
“I think we really taught each other. I taught my physical therapists tai chi and they taught me to walk again,” she said. “Everyone was so patient and understanding, from the doctors to the nurses to the therapists.”
Paula says that although her weeks of therapy and subsequent surgery and recovery weren’t easy, she now possesses a confidence she hasn’t felt since before her Parkinson’s diagnosis. The best part of her experience was having all of her doctors and therapists at one convenient location.
“Before I came to Weiss, I was used to traveling all around town to see different doctors,” she said. “Now I have my internist, cardiologist, physical therapist and social worker all in one place and just 10 minutes from my condo.”
Paula’s therapy didn’t stop when she returned home. Her care team scheduled a visiting nurse service to provide in-home care and provided her with an exercise cheat sheet to help her continue with physical therapy. Paula is currently teaching her visiting nurses tai chi.