Alexander (Alex) Diaz, 31, was working at a local sheriff’s office in Louisiana during hurricane Zeta when he twisted his back and felt a pinch. When he tried to stand, he had no feeling in his legs. His co-workers wheeled him to the car using a rolling office chair and drove him to the local emergency department. From there, Alex was transported to Ochsner Medical Center and diagnosed with a severe disc herniation in his spine. He underwent a procedure to reduce the pressure on his spinal cord.
Prior to his injury, Alex had been working at the sheriff’s office for 12 years, handling the transportation division for the parish. He enjoys traveling the country, going on cruises and hiking with his wife and dog.
After the surgery, Alex stayed at Ochsner Medical Center for five days before transferring to Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital for further recovery.
Upon arrival, he could not stand or move around in the bed without maximum assistance from the hospital staff. He required a mechanical lift to get from the bed to a wheelchair because his legs were too weak. He also was unable to push himself in the wheelchair due to gout in both of hands.
Additionally, Alex demonstrated deficits in coordination, functional grasp, range of motion and arm strength, which made normal activities and movement difficult. He required significant assistance to complete everyday tasks such as bathing, dressing and toileting and could only tolerate sitting for a few minutes due to decreased endurance balance. Alex also experienced significant shooting pain from his back down his legs, and did not have control of his bowels or bladder.
In addition to the physical challenges, Alex struggled emotionally and didn’t like having to rely on other people for every little thing. His therapy team put together a plan to restore his independence with a goal of getting him back home.
Alex and his occupational therapists focused on improving the range of motion and strength of his arms and hands, endurance, balance and making everyday tasks easier. He completed fine motor tasks to strengthen his hands, weighted arm exercises to improve strength, and used the upper extremity SciFit bike to improve his endurance. His therapists also worked on helping him use adaptive equipment to make bathing and dressing easier.
In physical therapy, Alex worked hard on standing and using a slide board to transfer to and from the wheelchair instead of relying on the mechanical lift. On day four of physical therapy, Alex was able to complete a slide board transfer and stand up in the parallel bars with assistance – a moment he recalls as the turning point in his recovery. Soon, Alex was walking in the parallel bars, then progressed to using a walker. Alex also found that group therapy with the other patients helped him a lot throughout his recovery.
Alex loved his experience as Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital. He had been to another rehabilitation facility for a previous spinal surgery but stated that the care at Ochsner was superior. Alex shared, "Having someone come in every morning and say let's go get at it really pushed me. The care and motivation I received allowed me to reach my goals.”
After two weeks, Alex discharged home with his wife and continued to make gains in outpatient occupational and physical therapy. Today, he is working full-time without restrictions and walking independently.