As a high school art teacher, Susan Kaufman found 2020 to be one of the more challenging of her career. The pandemic forced her to transition classes entirely to a virtual platform and while keeping her teenage students engaged wasn’t always easy, she managed to make it work. With the rollout of vaccines expected in early 2021, hopes were high for a return to “normal.” But for Susan, life was about to take an unexpected turn.
During the first week of January, she began experiencing weakness and numbness in her legs. At one point it became so severe she went to the ER and was admitted to Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Grapevine for testing. Her symptoms continued to worsen and soon she was unable to walk or even stand. Within days, Susan’s lower body was completely paralyzed. After extensive diagnostic work, doctors felt the potential cause was acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, a rare neurologic disorder that affects the body’s nerves is related to Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Susan, a busy wife, mother, grandmother, teacher and volleyball scout, was determined to overcome the new challenges she faced and chose Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation – Dallas (BSWIR – Dallas) for the comprehensive, intensive treatment she needed. Upon admission, Susan required maximal assistance just to get into a wheelchair and help from two people to be able to stand, but that didn’t stop her from setting big goals, stating, “I will walk out of here.”
While her physicians and rehabilitation nurses attended to her medical needs, Susan focused on giving 100% effort in her therapy sessions. She steadily improved her strength, coordination, balance and endurance and worked with her physical therapists on gait training. They had Susan use a wearable bionic exoskeleton, an advanced robotic technology that supports the body and facilitates movement. This drastically improved her gait training and made every step as precise as possible. Susan had lost some left hand function due to her illness. Working with her occupational therapists helped Susan improve her hand function and she became fully independent with self-care skills, such as bathing and dressing, as well as transfers that allowed her to get in and out of a car.
Susan’s teacher mentality proved to be an asset in her recovery. She requested daily homework from her therapists so she could practice her skills and reinforce the strategies she learned between sessions.
The most amazing testament to Susan’s determination wasn’t just targeted toward her recovery; it was directed toward her students. During her stay at BSWIR – Dallas, Susan continued to teach full time. Although the pandemic forced schools to pivot to virtual platforms, it now became a blessing for Susan – allowing her to continue to connect with her students, even while in the hospital.
Unwilling to let Susan or her students down, BSWIR - Dallas’s specialized assistive technology program worked with Susan to ensure productivity in the workplace while utilizing a temporary hospital room-based work station. Susan also learned about technology and equipment aids that would help her as she transitioned back to the classroom.
In a little over a month, Susan had progressed to the point where she was able to fulfill her promise to walk out of the hospital and return home. She has continued to build on the gains she made at BSWIR- Grapevine’s outpatient clinic and is looking forward to returning to in-person teaching full-time as soon as possible.