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You Have to go Through it to Get to it: John’s Success Story

By, Allison R. Weder

“There is so much more in life than sitting in a chair. It’s been a wonderful, very emotional return to life.” – John, Hanover, PA Patient

John Baumgardner is back to enjoying life! He is dining out, going to high school soccer and basketball games, and spending time with his family. But today’s reality almost slipped away after a serious health scare. John reflects on his health issues that escalated into a crisis. “I was so full of arthritis; I hurt all the time. I wound up in a chair and didn’t go anywhere. (My family) would go out to dinner, and they would bring me something home. I wasn’t part of the family. Eventually, I was hospitalized. I went in with congestive heart failure. I weighed 411 pounds. They took 45 pounds of fluid off me before I was able to leave the hospital.”

John left the hospital to go to a rehabilitation center for two weeks. “They got me on my feet. I had to prove that I could get up and go to the bathroom, get in and out of a chair, and get from point A to point B. Then I came home, and I had in-home care for eight months.”  John made considerable progress with his in-home rehabilitation, but he was still on portable oxygen and required a walker to get around. John’s in-home Physical Therapist recommended Phoenix Physical Therapy in Hanover, Pennsylvania so he could continue his health journey in an outpatient setting. John trusted his therapist. “She had referred other people to Phoenix, and they had good success so she felt confident I would be in good hands.”

John met Madeleine Brown, PT, DPT during his first visit to Phoenix. They discussed John’s goals and Maddie created a customized plan to help him reach them. “My goal was to be able to walk with my cane again, instead of the walker. I wanted to be rid of the oxygen, so I didn’t need to deal with that, and I wanted to be a normal human being again.” The work began right away. “We started doing stretches and band work. We did a few upper body things with the bands. I have arthritis in my shoulders, and I’ve had three knee replacements. One of those knees doesn’t work very well. That limits me on my mobility.” Maddie took John’s limitations into consideration, and focused on increasing his overall strength to help.

John and Madeleine Brown, PT, DPT

John ditched the oxygen quickly. He also noticed other improvements within the first two weeks of working with Maddie and Hanover Clinic Director, Katie Livelsberger, PT, DPT, COMT, FAAOMPT. “(The improvements) gave you the energy, the spark, the want-to-be-there, can’t-wait-to-get-there attitude.” Slowly, Maddie increased John’s lower body exercises so he could improve his walking. “We were doing light upper body and concentrating on the lower. We did ball squeezes, ankle rocks and band work down there. We started progressing so I could get out of the chair with strength. I can get out of a chair now and I can move better place-to-place.”

Once John’s legs were stronger, Maddie switched gears to his upper body. “I do a full therapy session with weights. I’ve progressed into ten pounds with my dumbbells. My left shoulder has some severe arthritis, so I have an eight pounder in my left arm, and a ten pounder in my right. I’m doing 100 reps. I go for the burn. (Maddie) was hesitant at the start. I said, ‘I trust you; you need to trust me.’ I went from 25, to 30, to 35, to 60 and then all the way up to 100.” Maddie and John worked as a team and reached milestones together. John even lost 125 pounds. “She’s my coach. I want to be a better player, so I’m asking the coach to let me see where my limit is. She trusts me and she watches me. I have a habit of holding my breath. She catches me doing that and tells me to stop. She’s fabulous. Katie works with me too. That pair, they’re just a dynamic duo. They both fabulous people.”

A few months in, John became worried about hitting a plateau and not making any more progress. “I was a little disappointed, and someone said, ‘John, you’re losing your belly. We can see it. You’re not losing weight; you are getting muscle.’ I’ve got guns in my arms now!” John’s appearance is changing, and so is his life. “I’m (able to go to) whole soccer games. I get to go to basketball games! It was such a treat to me. All the other times, I only got scores. I wasn’t there. This year I’m there. It’s so inspirational. I’m part of the family now. I’m going to restaurants now and I’m with friends and family. It’s been a wonderful, very emotional return to life.”

John is making plans to travel and has a few more goals he would like to reach. “I want to be more confident using my cane. When I do that, then I can just walk out to the car with my cane, and I’ll drive again. I’ll have more independence. I can go to the store for my wife and help her.” John found his motivation in his family and in God. “There is hope. I did not want to give up. I told my kids over the years; you have to go through it to get to it. You are working for you. God gave me my inspiration. I wasn’t done. I have more life to go.”

Maddie is impressed with John’s drive to succeed. “Since the very first session, John has been extremely motivated to achieve his goals of walking with a cane and improving his overall strength. Over the course of his physical therapy program, he achieved his goals and has even been able to transition to an independent Phoenix Fit program! It was an absolute pleasure to work with John and he is a true success story!” 

John considers Maddie and Katie family and credits his recovery to their caring, committed attitude. “The institutional workouts I had before were all business. They were, ‘you’ve got this to do, this to do, this to do and you’re done and out the door. You were a cookie cutter or part of the assembly line. It wasn’t warm, or one of those things you look forward to. (At Phoenix), when it’s my therapy time I actually look forward to it.”

John is grateful for life he has now. “It’s just been a whirlwind year as far as my health, and it improved my relationship with my wife. I’m not just sitting in a chair and she’s having to help me. I get up and I help her now. She doesn’t feel like she’s just a maid anymore. She’s back to being my wife. We’ve been married for 51 years. We’ve gone through a lot. It’s nice to be able to come out on the other side with some sunshine and roses.”