Being home for the holidays has a whole new meaning for Jim and Maureen Pekarski this year. After having open heart surgery to replace an aortic valve in July, Jim experienced multiple complications that left him unable to walk, talk or even eat.
He also needed a tracheotomy to be able to breathe. He and his doctors consider it a miracle that he survived. Jim spent the better part of the next five months away from home, in and out of hospitals and rehabilitation centers on a very difficult road to recovery.
With the many setbacks in Jim’s healing process, his family put in a lot of travel to visit him in various health care facilities throughout the area.
So the Pekarski’s were thrilled when they were able to get Jim transferred closer to home to the short-term rehabilitation unit at Rome Memorial Hospital. It’s here that Jim received the care and therapy that enabled him to get back on his feet and back at home in time for the holiday season.
“When we first brought Jim to Rome, not only couldn’t he walk, talk, or eat, he also had developed terrible bed sores from being immobile for so long,” Maureen said of her husband.
“Once we got to Rome Hospital though, the staff there worked as a team to care for Jim and he began to really make steady progress toward getting better. We could not have asked for better care. Everyone in the short-term rehab unit at Rome Memorial Hospital was just marvelous.”
Jim arrived at the short-term rehab unit on Sept. 5. From day one, his care team began working together to set Jim on a path of recovery that would get him back home with his family in time for the holidays.
“Jim was pretty medically complex when he arrived here and his condition was poor with his recent history of heart and respiratory failure necessitating a tracheotomy and feeding tube,” said Physical Therapist Melissa Williams, PT, DPT.
“It was a full team effort between nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy to get Jim well.”
In the beginning, Jim required two people assisting him for simple transfers from the bed to a wheelchair, but with physical therapy that included therapeutic exercise, gait training, balance training, transfer training and education, Jim began to regain his strength and independence.
Although Jim said he questioned some of the exercises in the beginning, he quickly saw how even things like throwing a ball helped improve his coordination and each day he became more and more determined to improve upon what he had done the day before.
“Jim started slow but became more positive, motivated and involved in his recovery when he began seeing the gains he was making along the way,” Williams agreed. Soon he was walking independently using a walker.
Once he was up and mobile, Maureen said she could see her husband making progress daily. “He was really determined,” Maureen said. “Once he realized that he could do it, he kept pushing himself to do a little more every day.”
Occupational therapist Kristina Stalnaker, OTR/L provided therapy for Jim to help him regain his ability to perform basic activities of daily living.
“I worked with Jim to improve his independence with every day activities such as washing, dressing, hygiene and grooming,” Stalnaker said. “He had to work to increase his strength, upper extremity range of motion, and endurance so that he would be able to do these basic tasks at home without assistance.”
Licensed Practical Nurse Gayle Illingworth, LPN was also part of the team that cared for Jim while he was in short-term rehab. She and others involved in his care tended to his wounds and worked to keep his spirits up.
“In addition to medical treatment, we provided encouragement when he was down and kept him motivated toward his goal of getting back home,” Illingworth said. “He was so sick when he first got here, we often called him ‘our miracle man’ because of his amazing recovery.”
Getting his tracheotomy removed was another major step in Jim’s amazing recovery. Once that happened, speech therapist Melissa Flury, MS, CCC-SLP worked with him to regain his ability to speak and swallow.
“Jim was initially NPO (nothing by mouth) due to his medical status and tracheotomy,” Flury said. The speech therapist worked with Jim with a variety of pharyngeal and laryngeal strengthening exercises to regain use of his swallowing muscles and improve his endurance.
“After five to six weeks of therapy, Jim had a video fluoroscopy to assure that he was able to swallow properly and we were able to recommend a regular diet consistency while implementing safety strategies,” Flury said.
Jim says he does not remember much during the first months of his recovery, but once he got to Rome his memory began to return. Flury worked with him to help with his cognition.
“Jim was very confused at first, not knowing where he was or even the month/year,” Flury explained. “We focused on short term memory using memory strategies– what he did earlier that day, what exercises he completed the day prior, and orientation to month, date, year via a calendar.
At the end of therapy he was able to follow all directions, recall short term events, and was oriented without use of a calendar.”
One thing Jim does remember is the first meal he was able to eat on his own. “Scrambled eggs, sausage and toast,” he said with a smile.” Jim was cleared to go home on Nov. 9 in time to be able to enjoy another memorable meal with his family on Thanksgiving day.
“I have to thank the entire short-term rehab team for getting me well and home in time for the holidays,” Jim said. “Every member of the staff was just phenomenal. I just cannot say enough about the amazing job they did getting me better so that I could finally go home.”
The short-term rehab unit is located in Rome Memorial Hospital’s Residential Health Care Facility (RHCF), the only skilled nursing facility in Oneida County to earn the highest 5-star rating from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Nursing Home Compare.
For more information about short-term rehab or the Residential Health Care Facility at Rome Memorial Hospital, call 315-338-7305.