Redefining Rehabilitation

Hospital’s tailored program enhances patient outcomes.

Retired air traffic controller Gene Hosack was born in a small town in South Florida called Pahokee, but he spent most of his adult life in North Florida, where he has always been a very active individual.

Photo by Nerissa Johnson.

Gene Hosack

“I was a runner for many years,” Gene shares. “I don’t run anymore, but I ride my bike three thousand to four thousand miles a year.”

Now 78, Gene’s active lifestyle has helped him to stay in good physical shape. His conditioning was put to the test this past July when he relocated to Vero Beach. Unfortunately, Gene’s back didn’t quite pass the test.

“Being active, I’ve had back pain on and off for a long time,” Gene explains. “When I get that pain, I typically ice down my muscles, and the pain gets better. But after moving a couple of households of furniture, that didn’t happen this time.”

Gene’s back pain didn’t prohibit him from riding his bike. As he has for years, he continued to ride 15 miles a day without issue. Oddly, though, he couldn’t walk more than 50 feet without his back seizing up on him.

“The pain was enormous,” Gene describes. “It was brutal. I was literally on my hands and knees going up the stairs. Sometimes, I just sat and shuddered because it was so bad. I always thought I had a high pain tolerance, but I couldn’t deal with that.

“The only time it didn’t hurt was when I was sitting or bending over. My wife kept telling me to straighten up, but I couldn’t because it hurt too much. Finally, I went to my doctor, and he told me I had bulging discs, spinal stenosis and pinched nerves.”

Gene’s doctor initially referred him to a pain management specialist who tried several steroid injections to ease his back pain. The injections were unsuccessful, however, so Gene’s doctor’s next suggestion was to see a spinal surgeon.

“The pain management doctor said my back was very compacted,” Gene recalls. “The nerves were being crushed by my vertebrae, so the shots weren’t doing anything. As soon as I saw the surgeon, he did an MRI and said I needed surgery.

“I opted to go ahead with that. The surgery was performed on January thirtieth. The next morning, I went to Encompass Health for rehabilitation. That was a good move because they worked miracles for me.”

Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Treasure Coast is an acute-level rehabilitation hospital located in Vero Beach. It’s the only facility in the area that offers that level of care. Encompass Health creates a personalized program of treatments for patients’ post-surgical rehabilitation.

Center of Excellence

Major surgery, such as Gene’s back surgery, can be a life-changing event requiring rehabilitation and retraining on activities of daily living. Surgery in and of itself often causes some disability because spending time in bed recuperating involves prolonged immobility.

“Encompass Health can definitely help with that,” assures Dawn Bucaj, RN, BSN, senior rehab liaison at Encompass Health. “We provide hospital-based inpatient rehab services to improve our patients’ independence and get them back to their active lives and their loved ones.

“Returning to regular routines after surgery or serious illness can be a struggle for patients. That’s why we have a team of specialists working together to help patients regain their confidence and paving their path to recovery following surgery.”

The Encompass Health team is led by their medical director, a physiatrist, and includes rehab-certified nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists. They assist patients in navigating through the post-surgical recovery process. Each patient’s recovery is different, so the rehab approaches taken by the Encompass Health team are individualized.

“We tailor a fully coordinated program of rehab treatments to ensure each patient receives the best care for their particular needs,” Dawn informs. “The approach we take is personalized to the patient’s diagnosis or condition and abilities.

“As a hospital, our patients receive daily visits by two physicians and twenty-four-hour rehab nursing care. Their tailored rehab programs include three hours of therapy per day, every day. Therapy is started based on the patient’s current level of ability.”

“The occupational therapist showed me how to wash, dress and shower,” Gene reports. “During physical therapy, they did a lot of exercises for my arms. They also had me walk using the parallel bars. I did therapy three hours a day, an hour and a half in the morning and an hour and a half in the evening. I accomplished a lot during therapy. The therapists did a good job with me.”

Photo by Nerissa Johnson.

Gene is excited to be back on his bike now that his physical therapy is complete.

Comfortable Cruising

Dawn stresses that Encompass Health is certified by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations in brain injury and stroke. It’s also been designated a Stroke Center of Excellence.

“We achieve designations such as these because we offer the most advanced treatments as well as state-of-the-art technology,” she observes. “These factors result in the best patient outcomes.

“It’s important to know the difference between a rehabilitation hospital and other post-acute settings such as nursing homes and assisted living centers. As a hospital, Encompass Health provides complete inpatient care as well as rehabilitation services, and that makes a huge difference in outcomes.”

She also notes that it’s important for patients and families to ask for Encompass Health by name.

Following his back surgery and rehabilitation at Encompass Health, Gene is feeling good and moving comfortably again. He believes the therapy he did at Encompass Health helped him turn the corner in his recovery from surgery.

“I just came back from a seven-day cruise, and I did a lot of walking up and down stairs on the ship,” Gene enthuses. “I was sore, but nothing outrageous. I actually went swimming on the cruise as well. I swam laps in the pool and about one hundred yards in the ocean. That’s pretty remarkable. And I can now stand and walk around. Three months ago, I couldn’t have done that, so I’m doing pretty well.”

During the height of Gene’s back problem, he rated his pain a ten out of ten. While he still has some pain, it has decreased significantly.

“Now, my pain is maybe a three,” he says. “It might not even be that high, so maybe it’s only a two, but I can certainly manage that.”

While Gene can now walk without pain and go up and down stairs on his feet, he decided to take a little more time before returning to all of his activities.

“I waited a little longer before I got back on my bike,” he relates. “I wanted to see how I responded to physical therapy, and I was afraid of falling. I used to wear biking shoes, but I’ll never do that again now that my back is fixed. I wear regular, ordinary shoes instead, so if I fall, I’m able to get my feet down.”

Having surgery was necessary for Gene due to the multiple problems with his back, but it’s a major procedure with a painful and immobilizing recovery process. He’s extremely pleased with his two-week stay at Encompass Health.

“The staff was beyond nice, and very attentive,” Gene states. “And they always told me what was going on. The nurses were wonderful. They managed my pain, and anytime I called them, they came immediately. I was treated very well.

“I really thank Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Treasure Coast. The care was outstanding, and the staff were on top of their game. They made my stay as nice as it could be, that’s for certain. And I appreciate that.”

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