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News Library
Caring For Our Community

Monday, May 05, 2014

Caring For Our Community

Sullivan Sports, Fitness, & Rehab, by Robin E. Butts, OTR/L

At Missouri Baptist Sullivan Hospital’s Sullivan Sports, Fitness, and Rehab, we have the opportunity to meet and work with many members of our community here in Sullivan, and surrounding communities.  At SSFR our patients become our friends as we learn more about them - their joys, pains, and aspirations.  In response, SSFR staff would like to highlight some of the hard work and accomplishments of our friends, your neighbors.

This month, the spotlight is on Gloria Watkins from Cuba, Missouri. Gloria is a friendly, active woman who loves to fish, watch movies, and go dancing. But in March of 2013, most of her favorite activities became impossible. In fact, most of her ability to move at all came to a horrifying halt.

“I had a rare form of strep that went to my spine and paralyzed me. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t sit up by myself. I couldn’t even lift my fingers from a flat surface. I couldn’t hold the telephone. Someone had to hold it for me because I couldn’t hold my arms up – they just fell and hit my face.”

Gloria had to have surgery on her spine to remove infection and scar tissue, followed by 8 weeks of IV antibiotics. She spent 3 weeks in a hospital inpatient rehabilitation program in St. Louis learning how to walk again. Then she spent 1 month at a skilled nursing facility here in Sullivan where she continued to work on her balance with physical therapy, and received electrical stimulation (e-stim) with occupational therapy to try to get her fingers to move again.

Watkins came to Sullivan Sports, Fitness, & Rehab in May of 2013. She was walking, but her Left arm and hand still weren’t working, and she was having a lot of back pain.

“I was scared deep down. I wondered if my left arm and hand would come back. I’m left-handed and I couldn’t even squeeze one drop of toothpaste, or hold a cup of coffee. I couldn’t put my hair in a ponytail. I could see that my left hand had lost muscle – it was so much smaller than my right hand. My occupational therapist tested my grip strength. It was 0 lbs. and I couldn’t feel anything in my forearm. I knew I had a long way to go but I didn’t know what to expect. I asked my therapist how long it was going to take to get my hand working again. She told me that it wouldn’t be right away, and that we couldn’t know how much movement and strength I would get back. She said it would take time and would require hard work and dedication on my part, but that we would work together and I would get better.”

Gloria worked diligently with occupational therapy for weeks. She never missed an appointment and gave her best effort each session.

“I kept a positive attitude. I wouldn’t let myself think that I wouldn’t get better. At first, I thought it would be like trying to get your strength back after having the flu when you are weak from being sick. It was much harder than that. I had no idea how difficult it would be to get even a little strength back, but I was willing to do whatever it took. I never felt like giving up!”

Then one day, after about 6 weeks of painstaking effort, Watkins' grip strength measured 1/4 lb. Several more weeks of hard work passed with only small improvements, but little by little, Gloria began to build strength with her grip, pinch, and arm movements. She worked on grasping, squeezing, pinching, twisting, pushing, pulling, spreading and closing her fingers, picking up tiny items and coins, shuffling cards, using paperclips, opening and closing zip-lock bags, using twist-ties, and numerous other activities that seemed simple but were enormously challenging for Watkins.

“I was just tickled that I could move it. When I got some real grip strength, it gave me a lot of hope. I wanted to get better, so coming to therapy wasn’t hard. I looked forward to therapy every other day!”

It took more than just time in therapy for Watkins to regain the function of her arm and hand. She had lots of homework.

“My therapist told me that I would have to work at it every day and that meant at home, too. I knew that if I didn’t do my homework, I may not get the strength back. I already knew I was pretty stubborn and determined, and things aren’t as easy as you expect them to be. You really do have to be disciplined or you’re not going to get the results you want. I knew I would!”

Gloria also worked with a physical therapist to strengthen her trunk and legs and alleviate her back pain. When she was finally ready to continue her recovery on her own this past December, Gloria had built 20 lbs. of grip strength and could use her dominant arm and hand for most daily activities.

“20 lbs. is amazing compared to where I started. Now I can go fishing! I can pinch somebody if I want to! You just have to get rid of the attitude and make up your mind to do the best you can do.”

And possibly the most amazing part of all is that Gloria is dancing again. The spring is back in her step and she can swing around, twirl, dip, and keep ahold of her partner’s hands. Gloria beat the biggest challenge of her life with determination and a positive attitude. Even though she wants to gain more strength and continues to work on her recovery every day, Gloria is back to living life to the fullest.

Photo of Gloria Watkins enjoying life's simple pleasures again.