World Physical Therapy Day: A remarkable story about one patient’s return to normal life

World Physical Therapy Day: A remarkable story about one patient’s return to normal life

September 8 is World Physical Therapy Day. The goal of this day is to raise awareness about the crucial contribution physical therapy has in making people well, mobile and independent. In honor of this day, Sarah Glowacki, a physical therapist at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., and her patient, Lee Dobbins, share their inspiring story.

Newly retired and preparing to run the Race to Wrigley with his two daughters, Lee Dobbins was at the height of his retirement and enjoying every moment of it. However, in April 2016, his life would be significantly altered forever.

Lee was in his bathroom at home and suddenly passed out. As he fell to the floor, he hit his head on the wall, leaving a hole, and he was left unconscious and unable to move his body. He was rushed to his local hospital, where it was determined he needed a higher level of skilled trauma care and was transferred to Advocate Christ. He suffered a severe spinal cord injury from his fall.

Lee underwent a five-hour surgery to repair his spine, and it was successful. After regaining consciousness following the surgery, he had limited mobility in his hands, arms and legs from the damage of the fall and needed extensive physical therapy.

“Lee suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury, meaning there was limited movement below his level of injury,” says Sarah. “His injury caused intense paralysis of his upper body and varying degrees of paralysis for his lower body, allowing only a few impulses to pass and allow for movement in his extremities. He couldn’t walk or even do simple things like feed himself. He needed to be cared for all the time and needed someone with him when he wanted to do things that required him to get up and be mobile.”

When Lee woke up from surgery, he was confused and had no recollection of his fall. A week after surgery, Lee started physical therapy with Sarah and her team, but coming to grips with this diagnosis and what the journey ahead was going to be like would be an obstacle for him to overcome.

“I wanted to give up, but Sarah and my other caregivers pushed me,” says Lee. “They believed I would be able to have my life back again and did everything they could to help me get to that point. Every day, I would work with my therapy team – good days and bad – and every day, I improved little by little. Even when I faced an obstacle, they were right there to support me.”

“Helping people get back to their lives is the most important and rewarding thing we do as therapists,” says Sarah. “It’s why most of us get into this field. Every time we meet a patient, we feel their pain and sympathize with their struggle. It’s a huge change for patients and their families.”

When Lee left the hospital after six weeks of therapy, he was able to walk, get in and out of bed and even use his iPad on his own. His condition improved as he continued therapy for several months after he was discharged from the hospital.

To this day, Lee still visits his physical therapy team and can’t thank them enough for believing in him.

“I never thought I would get this far,” says Lee. “Sarah and her team encouraged me throughout my stay at the hospital. They told me you will get through this and you will be able to walk again. Going through this traumatic event was depressing, but with my family and the physical therapists’ support I knew I could do it.”

Now, two years later, Lee is doing more than he dreamed he could. He is driving, grocery shopping, going to sporting events and helping take care of his wife.

Lee never gave up his goal of completing the Race to Wrigley with his daughters. In May, Lee finally made this dream a reality, and he isn’t stopping there. On September 9, Lee will be participating in his second race since his accident, the Brookfield ZooRunRun.

“The best part of our job is spending so much time with our patients and truly getting to know them as people and not patients,” says Sarah. “Seeing Lee completing races today is what makes our job worth it.”

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About the Author

Marrison Worthington
Marrison Worthington

Marrison Worthington, health enews contributor, is a public affairs and marketing manager at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois. She is a graduate of Illinois State University and has several years of global corporate communications experience under her belt. Marrison loves spending her free time traveling, reading organizational development blogs, trying new cooking recipes, and playing with her golden retriever, Ari.