Rehab Team Treats Cancer Patient With COVID

Comprehensive oncology program at Encompass Health equipped with advanced technologies .

Since her diagnosis in 1999, Evelyn* has battled chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL. It is a cancer that starts in special white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are produced in the marrow, the spongy tissue inside bones.

In 2021, the 81-year-old was forced to take on a second enemy: COVID-19.

“My CLL was being treated with powerful chemotherapy, which left me susceptible to any germs that were floating around, including the coronavirus,” Evelyn shares. “Sure enough, last September, I developed a terrible infection that turned out to be COVID-19.

“The infection took over my entire body and mind. All of my senses were affected, and I couldn’t breathe. I lost my appetite, I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t walk, either. One day, I fell and smashed my head on the glass doors to my patio and started bleeding profusely.”

The fall prompted an emergency visit to a hospital that lasted two weeks. During that time, her chemo treatments were suspended as doctors tried to prevent the coronavirus from taking her life.

“I was in bad shape,” Evelyn reveals. “I lost a lot of weight and was on my deathbed. The doctors and nurses at the hospital told me I was very close to dying.”

Evelyn was in such bad shape that she was not allowed to go home following her discharge from the hospital. She first needed to recover the strength and function she lost to the cancer and coronavirus.

She did that at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Treasure Coast, an acute rehabilitation hospital that is well-equipped to treat patients with cancer and infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

“Encompass Health has comprehensive rehabilitation programs as well as designated teams to care for COVID patients,” observes Dawn Bucaj, RN, BSN, the business development director at Encompass Health.

“Evelyn was able to take advantage of those programs during her stay here. Based on her specific needs, our multidisciplinary team put together the course of treatment that would benefit her the most.”

Dedicated Team

Cancer can affect a patient’s physical, mental and functional abilities, Dawn asserts. To better care for patients experiencing a range of cancer-related conditions, Encompass Health can provide rehab to patients who have an oncology diagnosis. It provides advanced technologies and treatments targeting all affected areas for an improved
quality of life.

“Our team of experts gets to know each patient’s prognosis and future treatment plans. They discuss expectations and short- and long-term goals with patients,” Dawn details. “The team then creates a personalized plan of care, addressing specific needs for a comprehensive approach to rehabilitative care.

“Once admitted into our hospital, patients are evaluated in several areas, including their diagnoses, complications of immobility and inactivity, and issues resulting from medical treatment such as chemotherapy, which could result in chemo-induced myopathy. We care for many patients who experience muscle weakness, which can translate into falls, due to the treatment they’re receiving.”

Sometimes, patients go to Encompass Health to get stronger before undergoing cancer surgery or chemotherapy. Other times, they choose Encompass Health after a hospital admission, cancer treatment, surgery or when dealing with a debilitating disease such as COVID-19.

“COVID patients admitted to our hospital are isolated,” Dawn notes. “They are cared for by a designated team that includes nurses and other clinical personnel, all the way down to the housekeeping staff. We have dedicated teams just caring for these patients to make sure there’s no cross-infection.

“As long as Evelyn was on isolation precautions, she received therapy in her room. Once she was no longer contagious and was capable of taking on more physical and occupational therapy, she was able to take advantage of our vast gyms and equipment. Our therapy programs are tailored to the individual patient.”

The team at Encompass Health works with oncologists in the area as well as the Scully-Welsh Cancer Center at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital. Patients can also be admitted directly from home.

“Patients don’t need to be in the hospital and don’t need a referral,” Dawn emphasizes. “They can admit to Encompass Health to get stronger as a means of fighting their cancer and the side effects of its treatments, or to battle the debilitating effects of an infectious disease such as COVID.”

The public can tour Encompass Health any day of the week without an appointment or take a virtual tour on its website.

“The website is informative and enables one to connect with a staff member who can help determine the appropriate level of care for you or your loved one,” Dawn states. “Remember to always ask for Encompass Health by name.”

“I’m Doing Great”

Evelyn is extremely pleased with her stay at Encompass Health as well as the staff at the rehab hospital.

“It’s been a few months since I was discharged, and I’m doing great because Encompass Health took good care of me and really nurtured me,” she raves. “The nurses and therapists were beautiful people, very caring.

“They taught me exercises and took me to a big room where I received different types of therapy. When I left, they sent people to my home to continue the therapy to help me walk again. I’m back to almost normal. I can walk, drive, eat and sleep, and my breathing is normal.

“The staff at Encompass Health did a super job. They were wonderful and very professional. At Encompass Health, I had the best of the best — the best hospital and the best therapists and nurses supporting me.”

After Evelyn recovered from COVID-19, her oncologist resumed her chemo. But this time around, he started her on an experimental drug that put Evelyn’s cancer into remission.

“That amazing new chemotherapy took the CLL away,” she enthuses. “It’s no longer affecting my bone marrow. But I have to give glory to God; He healed me. So many people were praying for me. And it worked!”

© FHCN article by Patti DiPanfilo. mkb
*Patient’s names changed at her request.
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