Health Care Heroes: returning patients to their pre-pandemic life.

Health Care Heroes: returning patients to their pre-pandemic life.

From re-teaching everyday activities to being the patients’ biggest cheerleaders, acute rehab therapists play a vital role in giving COVID-19 patients their lives back. Erin Mangin, acute rehab occupational therapist, and Bridget Neylon, acute rehab physical therapist, have been on the frontlines of the pandemic from the start. As the acute rehab unit at Advocate Christ Medical Center, in Oak Lawn, IL,  quickly turned into the destination for COVID-19 positive patients, both Mangin and Neylon put aside their fear and jumped in to help.

Both were among the first therapists to have contact with COVID-19 patients at the medical center.

As an occupational therapist, Mangin helps patients increase independence as they tackle everyday activities such as bathing, getting dressed and feeding themselves. Many COVID-19 patients arrive with weak arms and legs which can make simple tasks a daily battle.

“Initially we see these patients at one of the worst times in their lives, where they have been isolated in the hospital and fighting for their life. It is such a special thing to watch these patients progress and begin to gain their independence back,” said Mangin, who has been an occupational therapist at the medical center for over two years.

As a physical therapist, Neylon teaches patients to walk again after being bedridden for weeks, sometimes months due to COVID-19. Neylon, who has been a physical therapist for four years at the medical center said, “For several of these patients it was the therapy that got them out of bed for the first time in months.”

Each day, acute rehab therapists work with a handful of COVID-19 patients. Each patient receives three hours of therapy daily that is split between occupational and physical therapy. Throughout their shift, acute rehab therapists spend more than five hours in full personal protective equipment (PPE) as they jump from one patient room to the next. Full PPE includes wearing a gown, gloves, N95 mask and a face shield which can be taxing during high intensity therapy.

The pandemic posed quite the challenge when the unit’s main rehab gym closed to make space for additional COVID-19 patients. Hospital rooms that were once used by a single patient are now double capacity and filled with twice the equipment. This forced the therapists to think creatively as they developed bedside exercises that would prove the same results.

The therapists implement a variety of different treatments to see what works best and individualize it to each patient as they learn new techniques.

“We truly get to know the patients, we learn their fears and motivations. We work together to tailor a treatment plan and approach that optimizes each patient’s outcome,” said Mangin.

Acute rehab therapists play a significant role in keeping COVID-19 patients motivated as interactions with loved ones are limited and often done via the phone or video calls. The therapists understand that it is important for loved ones to see the progress the patient makes on a daily basis.  For this reason, therapists help set up video chats during therapy sessions which allow loved ones to witness important milestones such as their first bite of food or their first step in months.

“Sometimes people underestimate the role therapy has in the treatment of critically ill patients in the hospital. This experience further demonstrates the training and expertise therapists have to truly impact these patients and help them return to their lives,” said Mangin.

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