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Taking Ownership of Your Care: Larry Weiss’ Success Story

By Allison R. Weder

“My whole quest was to avoid back surgery.” – Larry Weiss, Phoenix Patient

Larry Weiss was diagnosed with two herniated discs. Larry recalls how this happened. “It was an overuse injury. At the time I was caring for my elderly mother, and she had fallen, and I was trying to lift her off the floor.” Simple movements became painful for Larry. “I would have to stop walking, catch my breath, and then walk a little more. Standing from a seated position was a leap of faith. There were times my lower back would go into full muscle spasm. I was not enjoying who I was and where I was at that point.” After months of pain, Larry visited an orthopedic surgeon who said his injury was in a “tricky location”, but he believed he could remove the damaged discs, fuse the vertebrae, and “things would be just fine.” Larry froze. “As soon as I heard him say, ‘tricky location,’ I didn’t want to hear anything else. I asked him for other options. He said we could try physical therapy, but I had to do everything they ask me to do.”

Larry had experienced some success with physical therapy in the past, but he believed this time would have to be different. Remembering the surgeon’s words, he knew this time he had to stay focused on getting better than before the injury. Larry chose Phoenix Physical Therapy – Scott Township, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania because it was close to where he lives and works. He met Kajja Huber, PT, DPT on his first visit. “The first evaluation was hopeful. I was very determined at this point that I was going to get better, and that physical therapy was going to make me better.” Larry credits his son’s positive experience with physical therapy for pushing him to have a determined attitude from day one. “My youngest son Michael was a varsity lacrosse player. A congenital defect in both knees sidelined him and he soon required surgery. Afterwards, he went to physical therapy to rehab his knees. He treated his recovery like a religion. He went as often as he could, and he did all the prescribed exercises. He wanted to get to the point where he was better than he was before the injury.” Larry was inspired by his son’s motivation to surpass expectations.

Larry’s therapy sessions began with light stretching and flexibility exercises. “There was a lot of waking up tissues that were damaged and underutilized. Initially, the exercises did not feel very good, because I was asking tissues to participate in ways they had not been used before. My back was angry.” Kajja spent one-on-one time with Larry making sure she was focusing on his goals with an individualized plan created just for him. Larry remembers her description of the muscles knots in his lower back as she used heat and manual therapy to work on some of the pain-causing areas. “She would say, ‘it’s like a rock garden back here.’ Some of it was quite painful, but she would talk through it with a calm and reassuring voice. That was often the best part of the visit. It was a reward for the hard work done.”

Determined to reach his goal of becoming pain-free again without surgery, Larry prepared a satellite physical therapy location in his own home. “I decided I was going to take on physical therapy and do everything Kajja told me to do. She printed a list of stretches and exercises to do at home with pictures. I set up a home physical therapy office in my upstairs bedroom complete with a yoga mat, exercise ball and exercise stretch bands. I was trying to do as much as I could at home as what Kajja did for me in the Phoenix office.”

Larry’s recovery journey did not always go smoothly. “It was an up and down process. At first, the progression was in a positive direction. After the first three weeks, I felt like I was gaining some control, I was able to stand up a little straighter, and I could walk a greater distance. But then, I must have slept wrong, and the muscle spasms came back. They were not as severe, but they did come back.” Larry was grateful Kajja encouraged him to keep moving forward after he experienced this small step backward. She adjusted her plan and steered Larry back onto the right track. “Over the next several weeks I was feeling progressively better to the point where I didn’t need to go to the clinic as frequently. I was still doing the exercises at home, because I knew I couldn’t stop the momentum now.” Like many health plans, Larry’s insurance limited the number of covered visits with Phoenix. Still, he was not back to where he wanted to be. “I asked Kajja if there was any way I could continue my therapy. She said, ‘let me give your insurance company a call.’ She impressed upon them that the reason why I was doing physical therapy was to avoid a much more expensive surgery. I was grateful that Kajja was able to convince them to approve several more visits.”

Larry is not only grateful for Kajja’s help relieving his physical pain, but he is also appreciative of how she put his mind at ease during every session. “She is a very capable and caring person.” Larry is quick to point out how the entire clinic team made him feel comfortable and cared for. “Jim (Mousadis, PT, DPT) is the Clinic Director. He is a great guy and a proud father. He reminds me of myself when I was younger. He never has anything negative to say about people. I can always tell how well a business is operated by how the staff interact with each other and how they speak about their clients. (Patient Care Coordinator,) Darla (Hauser), keeps the trains running on time in that office. She gets the ice, the heat pads and keeps the office equipped. Darla almost never sits down for more than a minute! She brings a nice personality to that office.”

Larry met his goal of avoiding surgery and surprised himself with some other achievements. “I’m in better shape than I was 15 years ago, in terms of muscle and bone tissue density and my ability to remain in balance. Before PT, I could not stand up and dress myself without pain. After PT, I am able to walk straight and tall. I strongly endorse the work that Kajja and the rest of the staff at Phoenix do. They restored my quality of life well into the future because of their encouragement for me to continue.” Kajja points to Larry’s full dedication to his therapy as one of the main reasons he reached his goal. “His success is through much of his own commitment to staying consistent with his home exercise program and taking ownership over his rehabilitation at the appropriate time.”

Larry continues his hard work at the Scott Township clinic through a program call Phoenix Fit. For a fee, the program allows patients to progress past their physical therapy goals to reach overall health goals by using the equipment they understand and feel comfortable using. “I go four days a week. The fee is a small price to pay for the ability to keep the momentum going. The clinic is a low-stress, judgment free, friendly atmosphere. In many ways, I feel like these people have become like family.”

Larry offers this advice to those who may be hesitant to try physical therapy. “Consider the alternatives – lying on the couch with pain medications or having surgery are not for me. I like that physical therapy allowed me to take ownership of my care. The patient is the quarterback of their own recovery. You have reduced your chances of getting better if you relinquish that role. It doesn’t only happen in the physical therapy office.  The Physical Therapists at Phoenix are there to coach you, but the credit for good results is shared by the patient who is determined to be better.”