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Building Strength, Relieving Pain after Five Back Surgeries: Pat’s Success Story

By, Allison R. Weder

For fifteen years, Pat Smouse has been battling severe back problems. In 2009, she had a tumor on her spinal cord, which required complete reconstruction of her spine. Since then, she has gone through four more surgeries. Pat describes the latest one. “I am on my fifth back surgery from it breaking. The first time it took me two years to walk again. In fact, they told me I might never walk, but I laughed at them. This time, they fixed the rods and the next day I was up and walking.” Pat was a college basketball coach and certainly understands the principle of never giving up. She has always been active, but needed help strengthening her core. Physical therapy was her road to that goal.

Pat chose Phoenix Physical Therapy in Lewes, Delaware. “I was going to the grocery store, and I saw the sign. I had been to a couple of other places around here and they didn’t have the same kind of attitude. I’ve been through enough through the years, so I know if I have a good therapist, which brings us to Sarah. I am honestly telling you; she is superb. I’ve never had a therapist that is a thorough as her, or that is as caring as her.” Pat is referring to Clinic Director, Sarah Leister, PT, DPT.

Pat met with Sarah for an initial evaluation. Each Phoenix patient will go through this process, so the therapist can understand the patient’s history, needs, and goals. Pat was grateful for the time Sarah spent with her. “She spends the first appointment with you and analyzes everything you can and can’t do as a starting point. You don’t do a lot physically. I told her I’m just really weak. They cut all my back muscles, plus they cut all my abdominal muscles to put this basket in.” Sarah took everything Pat said, along with her doctor’s notes, into consideration and created a rehabilitation plan just for her.

Once the plan was in place, Pat began the challenging task of rebuilding her core under the direction of the Phoenix PT-Lewes team. “There is a weight machine that has a back on it and I can do leg presses. No gym has a leg press like that. But because of the back on it I can do as many exercises as they want me to do. I’m using the treadmill and working on heel to toe walking. They do a whole circuit with me, upper body, and lower body. I get a complete body workout there. It is something I could never get at home.” That does not mean Pat does not continue the hard work at home. “When I’m not there, I do some low weights at home and some little things. I have to do my part at home too. That’s the problem with rehabilitation. Most people aren’t willing to put in that home part and that changes it. It’s not going to get done for you if you aren’t willing.”

Pat and Sarah’s relationship developed into a friendship that included trust. “She encourages me. All of them do. Steve, Tim, and Sarah. They are all the same. They all care about the people. I could not be happier. It feels like I am home. It’s family. I really mean that.” Steve is Steve Castro, Physical Therapist Assistant, and Tim is Patient Care Coordinator, Tim Ware. Pat remembers a time when she needed to cancel an appointment. “My dog got sick and had to be put down. I had an appointment, and I called Tim and said I can’t come. They sent me flowers! It has been an honor of my life to meet these people. They are pretty special. Tim does all the scheduling but if he has to pitch in, he does. They just do the job. Steve does the same thing. It is a great place.”

As Pat progressed, her leg needed special attention. Sarah became creative and Pat was grateful. “I knew she went to get certified in dry needling. The tumor was on my right side, so my left leg is affected. My left leg doesn’t move like I wish it would, and I have had extensive pain in my left leg for years and years. Sarah said to me, ‘I don’t know if your insurance is going to cover this, but do you want to try this?’ I said, let’s go! She dry needled me and I haven’t had pain there in over a week.” Sarah enjoys having a patient who is open to new things. “She has been such a fun patient to work with because she is always willing to try anything I can throw at her. We have been able to significantly decrease her pain and her strength and mobility have drastically improved as well.”

Pat’s main goal was to be more like she used to be. “At this point, I still mow my lawn, I am able to walk and I’m able to walk my dog. I know I’m not going to go back to when I was twenty, but I still need to take care of things during the day. It’s not a value to sit around and do nothing. I am up and walking now and I can take my little guy to the beach. They truly have improved my life so much; I can’t even tell you.” She is thankful she noticed the sign that day and found a rehabilitation team she can count on. “When you walk in, they have the right blend, of laughter, humor, and seriousness. That’s important. It keeps you coming back. I honestly couldn’t say enough good things about them. I am on my feet again because of them.”