Living Independently

Rehabilitation program improves amputees’ quality of life

For a long time, retired interior designer Ed Barrett struggled with peripheral arterial disease, or PAD, which compromised blood flow in his legs and feet. His PAD was complicated by diabetes. Together, these disorders resulted in tissue death on the front of his left foot and a severe wound. Slow healing resulted in a serious complication.

Photo by Nerissa Johnson.

Ed is on his feet again and doing the interior design for a local church.

Ed had to have a talus-metatarsal amputation, or TMA. A TMA is the removal of dead tissue from the forefoot. It is generally performed as a way to preserve the rest of the limb.
“When one of the staples was removed, I got a sore and an infection in my foot,” describes the North Carolina native. “The infection wasn’t obvious. I didn’t have any pain, and I thought my foot was leaking serum. I didn’t realize it was pus.
“I ended up in the hospital. Then, the infection hit my heart, and I had a massive heart attack.”
At the hospital, Ed had a serious reaction to a medication he was given, and many of his organs began to fail. While everyone concentrated on saving Ed’s life, his foot deteriorated further. By the time he was stabilized, his foot was too damaged and had to be amputated.
Following surgery, Ed had to learn to perform his daily activities without his left foot. For his care, he chose HealthSouth Treasure Coast Rehabilitation Hospital in Vero Beach. The hospital has a comprehensive program to help amputee patients readjust to their new circumstances and live independently.
“I ended up over at HealthSouth,” he confirms. “There I had two of the best physical therapists anybody could ever ask for.”
“When Ed was younger, he had an accident in which he broke all the ribs on his right side and a fall that destroyed his left shoulder. Although these injuries were now healed, they left him with weakness and soreness. Thus, Ed was unable to use crutches to support himself. The therapists at HealthSouth took a different approach to help him.
“The idea was to get my upper body strength to where I could support myself with my hands and arms,” describes Ed. “They taught me things like how to use them to get in and out of a wheelchair and in and out of the shower.”
Like many people who have had a limb amputated, Ed occasionally feels phantom pain, a feeling of pain in the foot that’s no longer there.
“Most of the time that I feel pain, it’s in my left foot. It’s amazing.”

Multidisciplinary Team

HealthSouth offers all of the clinical, technical and professional resources needed to help amputees progress toward independence. The goal is to give these individuals the skills and equipment to overcome any obstacles and enjoy a higher quality of life.
“We have a multidisciplinary team approach that helps with all aspects of rehabilitation,” notes Dawn Bucaj, RN, BSN, senior rehab liaison at HealthSouth. “There are case managers, dietitians, occupational and physical therapists, physicians, prosthetists, psychologists, rehab nurses, even wound care specialists making up that multidisciplinary team.
“We often see these patients twice. The first time is after the initial surgery. They can be admitted for recovery and wound healing. At that time, we help them with any phantom pain they may be experiencing, and teach them how best to deal with their situations physically and emotionally.”
The second time amputees might become patients at HealthSouth is after they’ve had prostheses fitted. The rehab team will teach them to walk with the prostheses, shape the residual limb so the prostheses fit comfortably and they can demonstrate daily activities using their new limb.

“The people at HealthSouth were as supportive as they could be. The staff was absolutely wonderful.”

“When a patient has a lower limb amputation, like Ed, the team works to strengthen the arms and hands,” states Dawn. “Upper body strength is very important for transfers in and out of a wheelchair, getting in and out of the shower, and performing other activities of daily living.
“We increase independence by teaching them daily living skills, improving their general and specific muscle strength, and facilitating community re-entry. We even assist them with return to work and job modification.
For patients facing amputations, HealthSouth Treasure Coast Rehabilitation Hospital provides total care, including on-site physicians and 24-hour certified nursing care, as well as intensive physical and occupational therapy. Other rehabilitation facilities and nursing homes can’t compare.
“We provide rehab services for three hours per day, and patients receive daily medical oversight by two physicians – a physiatrist, or rehab doctor, and an internist,”
“Our patients deserve that level of care, and HealthSouth is the only provider on the Treasure Coast who can provide it. Anyone can make a referral to the amputee rehabilitation program. It is important for patients or their loved ones to ask for HealthSouth by name.”

Mobility Restored

Ed was fitted with a prosthetic foot to replace the one he lost. He adjusted to the artificial foot quickly and has had his full mobility restored.
“With the prosthetic, I can get around, and I don’t even use a cane,” he states. “My wife makes me take a cane if we’re going into a crowded restaurant or a mall, just in case. I’ve got a scooter I use around the house and outside in the yard.”
Ed is happy not just with the physical therapy he received as part of HealthSouth’s amputation program, but also with his entire experience at the hospital.
“The people at HealthSouth were as supportive as they could be,” he comments. “The staff was absolutely wonderful.
“Once, two ladies from church stopped by, and when they walked into my room they thought I was dead. It turned out I had a severe blood sugar drop from my diabetes.
“This nurse was right on the ball. He had to do a forced sugar feed, where they go directly into the vein to get your blood sugar back up. When he went after my vein, he didn’t miss a beat. He was right in, and he brought me back.
“Not only do I recommend their physical therapy care, I also recommend their nursing care. I recommend HealthSouth Treasure Coast Rehabilitation Hospital, one thousand percent!”

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