Noemi Laws’ health journey began in 2014. She and her husband traveled frequently, were renovating their home, gardening and running an eBay business. Then, the 52-year-old from Lemoore, California began feeling ill. She went to the doctor. Tests revealed an enlarged spleen and, later, liver failure.
Her doctor recommended a colleague at New Orleans’ Ochsner Health System who specialized in treating similar conditions. Noemi flew to Louisiana for an evaluation, which determined she needed both a liver and kidney transplant.
Six weeks later, Noemi received both organs. Afterwards, she was semi-comatose and bedridden for 11 weeks. During that time, neuropathy -- weakness, numbness and/or pain from nerve damage -- set in. Noemi couldn’t walk or sit up unassisted. She wanted to return to the independent woman she was before her transplant. She also was determined to walk onto the airplane back to California on her own. After evaluating her options, she chose Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital for the next step in her recovery.
In physical therapy, the rehabilitation team worked daily with Noemi on wheelchair mobility to improve upper and lower body strength, cardiovascular endurance and the ability to independently socialize with others. When she could stand up, therapists urged her to take her first steps between parallel bars. She then progressed to using the LiteGait® body weight harness system to help her walking and endurance. With each therapy session, they added five more feet. They also used a standing frame, the SCIFIT® upper and lower bicycle and seated therapeutic exercises were used to improve Noemi’s balance, general strength and endurance.
Noemi also participated in occupational therapy for activities of daily living. Upon admission, she required total assistance. To help her transfer from her bed to a wheelchair with less assistance, they used a slide board. Adaptive equipment, like the reacher, sock aid, dressing stick and long-handed shoehorn and sponge were also used to increase independence.
The key turning point in Noemi’s journey was when she first stood up from her wheelchair. The moment was filled with such overwhelming joy, she cried. Group therapy was also incredibly motivating for her. The fact that there were other people there who were going through similar situations gave her the strength to continue.
There were days that she felt like she didn’t want to continue therapy, but she was determined to accomplish her goals. While it was hard work, Noemi said she also had fun with all the therapists and they made a hard experience enjoyable.
Noemi’s husband was there with her the whole time offering support, participating in her therapy sessions and encouraging her to take a step further each day.
Throughout her rehabilitation journey, Noemi found that she was stronger than she thought. If she were to offer advice to others facing a similar challenge, she would tell them to always keep a positive attitude, set small goals daily and not become discouraged.
After three weeks at Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital, Noemi was ready for discharge. She was able to get out of the wheelchair and walk with a walker for approximately 175 feet. She was also independent with all activities of daily living.
A few months later, Noemi underwent a second kidney transplant. After she recovered from that surgery, she stopped by Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital on her way home to California to show the team her amazing progress.