Long Island native Nachelle Brown, 33, worked as a customer care coordinator for a gynecology office until she began to have unexplained falls at home. After her first fall, Nachelle recalls thinking about how strange it was that she fell without tripping on anything, but she wasn’t too concerned.
A week later, when Nachelle fell again, she decided it was time to see a neurologist. She was diagnosed with neuropathy, a dysfunction of the nervous system that can lead to weakness and numbness. Unfortunately, as more time passed, Nachelle’s condition continued to deteriorate. She began to have difficulties walking and needed to rely on furniture or help just to walk to her door.
Nachelle’s condition took a turn for the worse again after she traveled from New York to New Orleans to visit her mother. She became very ill and was admitted to a local hospital for nearly a week. Tests did not show anything new, so she was discharged with a walker and a prescription for Gabapentin, a medicine prescribed for nerve pain. She returned home to her mother’s house and continued to require assistance to get around.
After Nachelle had another fall and was unable to get up, she knew something more was going on. She went to Ochsner Baptist Medical Center, where they performed a spinal tap by inserting a needle into her lower back to remove a sample of cerebrospinal fluid to help diagnose if there was a serious infection at play. After additional tests, Nachelle’s neurologists diagnosed her with polyneuropathy, a disease that affects the nerves that run throughout the body. Physicians started Nachelle on intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) therapy, a treatment for patients with antibody deficiencies. Doctors also recommended that Nachelle transfer to Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital to continue her recovery.
Upon admission, Nachelle required almost total assistance for bathing, toileting and getting dressed while in bed. She also required maximum assistance to feed herself due to decreased coordination and strength in her hands. Furthermore, Nachelle was unable to get out of bed by herself and required the use of a mechanical lift to transfer to her wheelchair.
As her rehabilitation journey began, Nachelle set primary goals to walk and be able to take care of herself again. Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital’s physician-led team of physical and occupational therapists devised a plan to help her regain her strength and mobility.
Nachelle’s occupational therapists taught her how to use adaptive equipment to improve her independence with bathing, dressing and feeding. Nachelle also worked hard at improving grip strength and coordination of her hands using a variety of tools and exercises.
In physical therapy, Nachelle’s therapists taught her how to get into her wheelchair using a slide board, a piece of equipment used to make a solid bridge between the two surfaces so that a person with limited mobility can slide across to transfer between them, rather than a mechanical lift. At first, Nachelle required several staff members to help her with this transfer due to generalized weakness and inability to control her limb movements.
Nachelle’s physical therapists utilized multiple pieces of equipment to help her stand and walk. At first, she practiced standing with the help of her therapists and a standing frame, a specially designed alternative positioning device that helps support a patient’s weight. She then progressed to walking with the Rifton TRAM walker and the Tollos, devices designed to support a patient’s body weight and improve mobility. While Nachelle used the equipment, therapy staff moved her feet so her brain and body could get used to the idea of walking again. Nachelle’s therapists also trained her on the use of her power wheelchair as she was unable to use a self-propelled wheelchair.
Family training played a large part during Nachelle’s time at Ochsner Rehabilitation. Therapists provided hands-on training and education to her mother on how to safely assist Nachelle at home in order to allow her to be as independent as possible.
After a month at the hospital, Nachelle was able to use the slide board with her mother’s help and operate a power chair with only minor assistance. Nachelle was discharged with the intention of continuing her IVIG treatments and starting outpatient therapy. However, there were issues getting Nachelle into outpatient therapy, so after 23 days at home, her physician recommended she return to Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital to continue high intensity training to achieve more progress toward independence.
Nachelle’s second stay lasted for almost a month and she continued to make significant functional improvements. By the time of her second discharge, Nachelle was able to walk between the parallel bars with the assistance of just one therapist and could get in and out of her mom’s car with the assistance of two people. Nachelle had also progressed to being able to transfer from sitting in her wheelchair to standing with the assistance of parallel bars or a walker, requiring only minimal assistance from the therapist. She was also able to remain standing for short periods without holding on to anything and while performing reaching tasks.
As Nachelle reflects on her rehabilitation journey, she attributes much of her success to the strong support and encouragement of her family and friends. Her mother would frequently attend therapy sessions, pushing her to work harder. Nachelle would send videos of her progress to her friends and other family members as well.
Nachelle expressed gratitude for her time at Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital, stating, “If I didn’t start over at Ochsner, I wouldn’t be where I am at this moment.” The hospital team was grateful to her as well noting her positive attitude and upbeat personality were inspiring to the other patients and team members. Nachelle’s advice to other patients is to be patient and trust the process. The encouragement and support from others made her feel better and gave her the motivation to continue pushing toward her goals.
After discharge from the hospital, Nachelle attended outpatient occupational and physical therapy three days a week, where she continued making amazing progress. She was able to walk 100 feet with a walker and go up and down stairs with some assistance. Nachelle still experienced some challenges with balance and coordination due to her diagnosis, but she continued making great improvements.