Born and raised in Fort Worth, Cynthia ‘Michele’ Powers is a devoted special education teacher with over 30 years of experience. As a passionate educator, 62-year-old Michele has dedicated her life to nurturing children with autism and developmental challenges, finding joy in spending time with loved ones and enjoying outdoor activities.
"I love to be with my family, play games and just be out doing stuff like shopping and going out to eat. I love to be outdoors in the sunshine," she said. "I love the beach even though I don't get to go very often."
Last year, Michele's activities had to be curtailed due to recurring infections and sepsis, which also took a major toll on her well-being – landing her in the hospital for several months.
"In October, I had a heart attack," she recalled. "In November, I went back to work ... but my nephrologist called and said I needed to go to the ER because I was in kidney failure. I just remember feeling so horrible, but I chalked it up to being back at work."
Struggling with weight loss, muscle mass depletion and cognitive decline, she stayed in the hospital for about a week and a half until she was medically stabilized. Then, she chose to go to Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation (BSWIR) - Fort Worth and their Day Neuro Program.
"My doctor felt like I would be a good candidate for this program," Michele said. "I always come to Baylor because I really like the Baylor system." Her rehabilitation journey began.
Michele spelled out her goals to her new physician-led rehabilitation team very clearly. For inpatient, she sought "improved balance, endurance, gaining strength, improving my cognition." For Day Neuro, she said: "Same goals, but also I wanted to be able to walk on uneven surfaces and continue to improve strength, endurance, balance and cognitive skills."
The inpatient rehabilitation helped Michele regain her core functions to meet her goals -- improving her balance, endurance and strength. Initially requiring a walker to move, she underwent gait training and parallel bars to help regulate her balance. In tandem, she went through exercises, like leg lifts and toe taps, to help rebuild her core strength. Losing the muscle mass weakened her, so it was important to rebuild her balance to progress toward walking on her own.
Although Michele was progressing, she wasn't finished with her goals. She entered the Day Neuro Program at Fort Worth, a comprehensive daylong outpatient program that focuses on rehabilitation for stroke, brain injury and other neurological disorders. This specialized program played a vital role in Michele's recovery. From engaging in balance boot camps to working with the facility dog, she cherished every session, her passion for children pushing her forward. Therapists also made note of her goals, focusing on rebuilding the strength in her arms so she could hold her grandbabies once more.
Her care team took her through exercises, carrying dumbbells in various sizes until she reached the weight of her grandchildren. In addition, the innovative use of tools such as robotics, virtual reality simulations and cognitive games bolstered her progress to get back to the way she was before. She improved her walking speed, learned a lot of balance and compensatory strategies and rebuilt her cognition and memory.
"I just feel different. I feel normal again. It's all come back to me. I've regained all of my independence." Her family—four grown children, two daughters-in-law, two grandchildren and a tight-knit support network— played an integral role in her recovery. They stood by her side, providing emotional support, financial assistance and participating in education and training programs. Michele's daughter, who accompanied her to Day Neuro sessions daily, epitomized the loving care that propelled her forward.
As Michele prepared to bid farewell to BSWIR - Fort Worth, she reflected on her experience.
"I loved every minute of every day," she said of her time. "I'm looking forward to getting back to my life, being able to work again. I love the way I feel right now, so healthy and strong, so I'm looking forward to continuing to feel that way. All of this therapy has really helped my body to heal and get to where it needs to be. I'm really going to miss this a lot. I've enjoyed coming [to Day Neuro]."
Looking toward the future, Michele anticipated returning to her profession, relishing the ability to work with children once more. The rehabilitation experience has not only transformed her physically but also instilled a newfound belief in her capabilities.
Michele leaves this advice for those going through a similar experience: "Just to keep going. Keep doing what the therapists want you to do, because it helps. Continue to look at the little gains you're making because it's all worth it. Just push yourself. Keep going. Push through [the bad days] because it's so rewarding when you do."