A Walk In Progress

Advanced treatment sparks recovery from crippling nerve ailment

By his own account, Josh Barnett was “drinking with three hands” at the time, so when he woke up one day six years ago with numbness in his feet, he didn’t know if it was because he was coming off an all-night bender or something more serious. 

“I had no idea what was happening,” Josh confirms. “All I knew was that my feet felt like they were asleep. At first, I figured it would just go away after a while. But then it never did. In fact, it got worse.” Within two weeks, the numbness in Josh’s feet spread to his upper thighs. Once there, it robbed him of his coordination and ability to walk normally. That’s when Josh, then 32, became concerned.

“You could see I was struggling,” he  remembers.  “I  was  working construction with my father at the time, and he was the one who made me go to the hospital to get checked out. That’s where I was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome.

A rare condition sparked by a bacterial or  viral  infection,  Guillain-Barré (pronounced gee-LAN bah-RAY) causes the immune system to attack the nerves. As it did with Josh, it sometimes results in long-term paralysis that can extend to the shoulders.

“In my case, it got into my central nervous system and also caused the muscles around my lungs to go numb,” Josh reports. “That caused my vitals to tank, and they put me into a medically induced coma and hooked me up to a breathing machine.

“I didn’t know it then, but at the same time I was also going through alcohol withdrawal because, up until then, I had been drinking every night for the past year or two. Had they not put me in that coma, I’d probably be dead.”

Josh remained in the coma for three weeks. During that time, his vital signs normalized and his ability to breathe on his own returned. Soon, he began walking again.

Two years later, the Guillain-Barré struck again.

This time, it struck not only Josh’s legs, but his arms and hands. It resulted in yet another hospital stay and medically induced coma. Josh didn’t come out of this coma as well the first one.

“When I got out of the hospital the second time, I couldn’t even write my name; that’s how messed up my hands were,” Josh laments. “I couldn’t even play my guitar, which is one of my greatest passions.”

Even worse, Josh lost his ability to walk again and began using a wheelchair. He was forced to go on disability. Despite unceasing physical therapy, there was no change for two years.

Then, last fall, a change in insurance coverage forced Josh to find a new physical  therapy  practice.  Scanning through the options, he chose Regional Rehab, the Spring Hill practice of founder Charles C. Donley, PT, and Rehab Director Paul A. Ernandes, PT, PhD.

A Christmas Miracle

It  was  a  fortuitous  choice because Charles and Paul have successfully treated patients with Guillain-Barré syndrome. With Josh, Paul did something during his initial evaluation that he had never done before.

“I  get  goosebumps  just thinking about it, because for the first time in my professional career I held this man’s hands, looked into his eyes and said to him, By Christmas you will be walking again,” Paul relates.

“I remember that moment vividly. I also remember going home that night and thinking, How can I make a statement like that? But I felt in my heart that we could do it because Josh was very highly motivated and eager to become active again.”

To make good on his promise, Paul created a treatment plan that called for extensive use of two of Regional Rehab’s signature tools: the Class IV deep tissue therapeutic laser and the HIVAMAT® 200 deep oscillation device.

The laser uses wavelengths of red and near-infrared light to stimulate nerves and the body’s natural ability to heal damaged cells. It does this by triggering a release of nitric oxide, which reduces inflammation, promotes healing and increases blood circulation.

The oscillation device creates gentle impulses  that  relax  muscles  and penetrate all tissue layers to remove inflammatory byproducts from the cells that cause pain but are not part of the cells’ natural makeup.

The treatment plan also included stretching, balance and range-of-motion exercises, and manual and physical therapy, but it was the inclusion of the Class IV laser and HIVAMAT 200 that made it unique, Josh says.

“Before I went to Regional Rehab, I had been to three or four physical therapy places, and all they really did was teach me how to live in a wheelchair,” Josh  reports.  “Regional  Rehab  did everything they could to get me out of that wheelchair.”

They soon succeeded. On Dec. 15, Josh walked a few short steps with the aid of a licensed physical therapy assistant and a walker. The next day, he walked the same few steps with a quad cane (which has four tips at the base) and therapists on either side of him.

Four days after, Josh walked 75 feet four times using only a quad cane, and on Dec. 26, he walked 100 feet four times with a quad cane and minimal to standby assistance. He has also regained use of his hands.

Above and Beyond

Josh is now walking regularly with the aid of a four-wheel walker, and he’s confident he will soon walk without any assistance. He’s also convinced that were it not for Regional Rehab, he would not be on the path he is now.

“I made more progress in the first two months at Regional Rehab than I did in the 27 months I was in therapy before that,” Josh raves. “Regional Rehab was a godsend to me. The people there have completely turned my life around.”

Paul says those people include the therapists who perform the manual and physical therapy that Josh continues to receive. He also commends Josh for committing to the often-arduous treatment program.

“My will and my determination come from Paul,” Josh notes. “If he had said to me that first day, “Well, we’ll see what we can do, but I can’t make any promises, I don’t know that I would have attacked this the way I have.

“But after two years in a wheelchair, that was the most encouraging thing I’d heard from a medical professional. I thought I was going to cry when he said I’d walk again, and after that I thought, OK, I’m going to do this.”

Josh has done something else of great note. Now a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, he says he has remained sober for more than 15 months and resumed  his  education.  He  wants to  become  a  mental  health  nurse practitioner  for  the  Department  of Veterans Affairs.

“I’ve had a passion for mental health care since I was a teenager, and my goal is to work for the VA,” Josh offers. “I want to do something meaningful for our veterans because they do so much for us, and all too often they are forgotten.

Josh won’t soon forget what Regional Rehab has and continues to do for him.

“I can honestly say that I’ve never had a more positive all-around experience with a group of medical professionals than what I’ve had at Regional Rehab,” Josh raves. “From Paul to the PTAs and even the folks in the front office, they are an exceptional group of people.

“They go above and beyond to help people and are so forward-thinking. They treated me in ways I didn’t even think were possible, so if there really is some great benevolent God out there, he had my back in sending me to Regional Rehab.”

article by Roy Cummings

Photo by Jordan Pysz

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    • Regional Rehab

      Regional Rehab's ultimate goal is to enrich people’s lives by helping to enhance their physical and mental well being, creating an atmosphere of quality care and optimum healing with a loving touch.... Read More

    • Charles C. Donley, PT

      Charles C. Donley, PT, is the owner of Regional Rehab. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in physical therapy, graduating cum laude, from the University of Pittsburgh. He served on the board of the Hernando County United Way, is a d... Read More

    • Paul Ernandes, PT, PhD

      Paul A. Ernandes, PT, PhD, joined Regional Rehab in April 2018. He previously was director of physical therapy at Vitality Physicians and Rehab and spent 10 years as director of rehabilitation at Oak Hill Hospital in Brooksville. He has also ... Read More