Spinal cord injury
A proud native Texan and accomplished concert flutist, Lisa's life was defined by her music and her thriving role in various musical ensembles, including the Northeast Orchestra and the Texas Chamber Music Project. Alongside her love for music, Lisa was also a dedicated "quazi-farmer," embracing the outdoors and nurturing her gardens and greenhouse. With 42 years of marriage to her husband, Brian, and two grown sons, Lisa cherished the strong bonds of her close-knit family.
Lisa's journey took a sudden turn when chronic migraines led her to seek a nerve ablation procedure. However, an unforeseen complication resulted in a spinal cord lesion that left her paralyzed from the neck down. With the lesion spanning from C1-C3 to the base of her brain stem, Lisa's life was forever altered.
“When they tried to bring me out of anesthesia,” Lisa recalled, “I wouldn’t breathe, so they had to intubate me.” Her doctors soon realized that nothing on Lisa’s right side worked from the neck down. “I had no movement. I couldn’t breathe on my own. It turns out I was only able to breathe into the upper part of my left lung, but nothing else,” she said. She was also experiencing left-side weakness and a loss of temperature and pain sensation.
Staff admitted Lisa to the intensive care unit at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. After two MRIs showed the legion getting worse, Doctors told her there was nothing they could do to help her. Her pain management doctor suggested flooding her body with steroids for five days and slowly reducing the amount over the next six weeks.
Nauseous, losing weight and still unable to move anything on her right side except for her thumb, Lisa maintained a positive attitude. “Every day I looked for something to be grateful for,” she said. “I had a really good attitude through all of this and was grateful for the help I was getting and for the doctors sticking by my side.”
When she moved to inpatient rehabilitation, Lisa was considered bed bound. “I couldn’t even sit up in bed without maximum support,” she said. Within two days, therapists had her in a wheelchair and off of supplemental oxygen. After a month, Lisa’s left side was becoming stronger, but her right side was still useless. “I still needed someone to help me bathe and do things around the house. It was exhausting to bathe; it took everything out of me,” she said.
Determined to regain control of her right side, Lisa underwent stem cell therapy in Panama. There she received infusions totaling 200 million cells over two weeks. On its own, that wouldn’t be enough to get Lisa back to the life she enjoyed before her initial surgery. For that, she would need a specialized program with expert therapists.
She found Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation (BSWIR) – Fort Worth’s Day Neuro Program. “I knew one of the therapists from orchestra. She assured me that this was a great program for me. It was highly recommended in the hospital and in the rehab center as one of the top places for neuro rehabilitation,” Lisa said.
Lisa met with the rehabilitation team at the Day Neuro Program and laid out her goals. “I wanted to walk, get full use of my right hand and arm and play the flute again. I really wanted a full recovery and to get everything back.” The BSWIR team started her on a therapy plan. She would take part in physical therapy to strengthen her body and begin to regain control of her right side. Occupational therapy would help retrain her daily activities such as using the bathroom on her own, cooking and getting into and out of bed. Recreational therapy would be used to improve and sharpen her cognitive and physical abilities along the way.
Rehabilitation plan in place, Lisa began the process of regaining her independence with her family there to support her the whole way. “I’m so glad I didn’t have to do this without them. My husband has been absolutely amazing, and through all of this we have grown even closer, which is really something to say after 42 years of marriage,” she said.
With the support of her family and the encouragement from her therapy team, Lisa began to see some surprising results. “There was this thing I had to do with blocks. I had to reach in a box and grab a block to move it over. The first time, my therapist had to facilitate every movement for me. A month later, I was able to do it by myself, which was shocking,” Lisa recalled. Soon after that she was able to tie her own shoes. “That was a biggie,” she said.
Lisa continued to work hard during therapy and participated in many activities that she enjoyed. “I thought the obstacle courses were interesting,” she said. “I really enjoyed doing yoga. It was such a practical application of everything we had been working on and brought everything together.”
Her occupational therapist engaged Lisa in myofascial release therapy. This used low-impact exercises and stretching to relieve tightness in the body and restore flexibility. She would later describe her therapists as “excellent” saying, “Simply because everything they asked me to do, I would do. I knew that they would never ask me to do something if it wasn’t going to help me, and I got great results from it.”
Those “great results” are evident in Lisa’s physical capabilities when she was discharged. “I can easily walk with a cane and have good balance when I’m doing that. I can walk shorter distances without a cane,” she said. She also mentioned that she’s regaining function in her right hand. She doesn’t have enough control yet to play the flute, but she isn’t giving up on it.
As this part of her rehabilitation journey comes to an end, Lisa reflected on the things that got her to this point and she attributed a good bit of her strength to God. “My strength comes from God,” she said. “Without him, I couldn’t have done this.” As for the Day Neuro Program itself: “I won’t miss the drive, but I will really miss the people here. This really is such a unique setting.”