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Beating the Odds: Mike Ingrassia’s Success Story

By, Allison R. Weder

An upper respiratory infection, then COVID, then bacterial pneumonia, then sepsis. Mike Ingrassia faced an uphill battle that seemed insurmountable. It landed him in the ICU, intubated. “My lungs were completely gone at that point. They had to medically induce me into a coma. I was out of it for a solid month. My family was terrified.” Mike survived, but had a long recovery ahead of him. “We somehow got through. There were a lot of good people working on me but when you come out of it after a month, your neurons aren’t firing right in your head.”

The doctors began to assess the damage done to Mike’s body while he was in the coma. “I couldn’t walk because of muscle atrophy. I couldn’t move my right arm at all.” Mike suffered nerve damage in his arm. He’s not sure how it happened but one theory is the virus caused the damage which led to Parsonage-Turner Syndrome. Mike saw several specialists over the next few weeks and physical therapy started right away. Once he was a bit stronger, he went to an inpatient rehabilitation center. “We would have sessions three times a day. I started from the ground up. I was trying to figure out how to walk again and feed myself. I knew I had kids at home that I really wanted to get back to and a life that I wanted to get back to.”

Mike completed his time at the rehabilitation center. He could write his name and feed himself but there was a lot of hard work still ahead. He transitioned from a wheelchair to a walker, just before discharge. “My lungs were still in rotten shape with my blood oxygen levels in the low 90s. There was still cause for concern.”

Mike needed to start outpatient rehabilitation immediately to build on his inpatient progress. “We live in Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania. My wife had done all the research. She made phone calls asking what each facility could potentially do for me. I was in bad shape, and some facilities flat out told her I was out of their realm of expertise. Phoenix Physical Therapy in Gilbertsville indicated they were able to help. We actually figured out everything during my first session.” Physical Therapist, Kristen Sassaman and the Gilbertsville team created a plan tailored just for him to help Mike achieve his goals. “Obviously I wanted to be walking unassisted. I couldn’t move my arm. It was stuck. I wanted to be able to take a deep breath again without worrying my lungs were going to give out on me. I bought some breathing exercise devices Kristen recommended and got started right away. We started noticing oxygen increases almost immediately.”

Mike’s sessions at Phoenix included cardio exercises. “I walked on the treadmill. I did very light activities and working on things like sitting to standing to get my legs back.” He admits he got frustrated sometimes, but he was not alone. “I had a great supporting cast around me. (My therapists), my wife, my kids, my extended family. People from my work reached out to me. They just wanted me to take my time and get back.” Soon, Mike saw some exciting progress. First, he graduated from using a walker to using a cane. But the cane didn’t last long. “I was on the cane for maybe two and half weeks. I was very nervous and scared but Kristen had a harness and I just let go of the cane. It worked! I was walking without the cane. That was a huge mental boost. It made me feel accomplished. My wife was there, and she was obviously very emotional.”

The hard work continued, and Mike’s team, which now included Clinic Director, Lauren Brennan, PT, DPT, CMPT, began targeting his arm. “We did a lot of strengthening activities in the doorway, assisted stretching, scapular release, and resistance bands. I saw results in a few weeks. I started off with a one-pound weight which was literally all I could tolerate. Soon, I was up to lifting 15 pounds.” Mike’s plan also included sessions aimed at gaining strength, stability, and mobility. “I’ve always been a believer in physical activity. Playing sports with my kids again was a huge goal for me. The doctors were friendly, but realistic. They told me I may not get back to where I was before. They thought I might reach 60% and that would be a huge accomplishment. We way surpassed that. I’m almost back to 100% now.”

Mike is grateful for the three months he spent at the Phoenix-Gilbertsville clinic, and feels the entire team played a role in his recovery. Patient Care Coordinator, April Rutherford, “was there from the beginning. She was so informative. She always asked how I was feeling. I felt comfortable and safe.” April was impressed with Mike’s dedication to his recovery. “Mike’s determination and passion will leave a long-lasting impression. His motivation to recover and to achieving his goals is something I will never forget. I am grateful that I was able to be there to assist him in achieving these goals.”

Mike still has goals and plans to keep doing his home exercises to reach them. “I want to continue to play sports and get better. We play football, basketball, and wiffle ball. I told Lauren I wanted to throw a curve ball again, and before I left she worked on it with me. Everything I went through there worked! Without their pushing and support I would not be where I am today. I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone. I’m lightyears beyond where I thought I would be mentally and physically.”