Robert's story

Robert Van Walsum and his wife, Sarah, were enjoying life as empty nesters after raising three children. However, several years earlier, the 60-year-old utility worker was diagnosed with osteoarthritis. His condition deteriorated to the point where walking became a daily struggle. He went from using a cane to riding a scooter at all times.

Tests confirmed that Robert needed a double-knee replacement. Following surgery, his doctor recommended recovery at an inpatient rehabilitation hospital.

Robert and Sarah had driven by Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital several times so they knew about the facility. After neighbors highly recommended it, he made the decision to go.

Upon admission, Robert set a number of goals: to start walking, to return home, get back to work and resume his favorite hobby, woodworking. He also wanted to be able to negotiate stairs so he could move about freely in his multi-level home.

On his first day, Robert’s physical therapist told him that in two weeks he would be walking 50 feet and getting up three steps. Robert told her that he has to get up six steps at home. She recalibrated his treatment plan to 50 feet and six steps. Once he got to the gym and the staff began his evaluation, he told them that 50 feet wasn’t going to be enough. Therapists doubled his goal of walking 100 feet in two weeks.

Physical therapists helped Robert begin to move his knees again. It was painful, but he was determined. He told his therapists that no matter what he said to continue to push him.

Initially, Robert could only bear to stand for one minute. He needed help getting dressed, transferring to the bed and chairs, walking and stairs. To help improve his strength, endurance and balance, therapists used the SCIFIT StepOneTM, a machine that allows the user to sit in a reclined position and rebuild upper and lower body strength through a low impact, simulated stepping exercise. Therapists also guided Robert through light weight training and resistance band use to help with endurance and range of motion. As he grew stronger, physical therapists taught him to use a rolling walker for balance and mobility.

Occupational therapists helped Robert learn to use adaptive equipment like a shower bench, raised toilet seat and dressing stick to give him greater independence in daily living activities. Before he began therapy, Robert could barely get to the bathroom on his own. After two weeks, he was walking 995 feet and could make it up 21 steps. He passed every test therapists gave him.

Robert said he enjoyed his therapy sessions because every day was different. Each therapist had a different way of approaching tasks, which he says kept him mentally stimulated. 
The key turning point in Robert’s recovery was being able to bend his leg. Although it was initially painful, he admits “it felt so good when I got done and accomplished that.”

His family also played a huge role in his recovery. His children, who all live in New York, visited at various times. However, Sarah, a nurse, was by his side every step of the way. With a mix of loving support and tough, positive reinforcement, she would help Robert with a task, such as tying his shoes, then back off and push him to do it on his own.

Sarah also urged her husband to discontinue pain medication because it made him forgetful. With his doctor’s approval, Robert set the pain pills aside and never took them again.
Throughout his rehabilitation journey, Robert said he found strength he didn’t know he had.

Both Robert and Sarah thought he would need outpatient therapy upon returning home. However, he made so much progress that his doctor didn’t think it necessary. Even better, Robert could get back to work sooner than expected. He and Sarah had prepared for three months. It turned out to be only six weeks. Robert returned to the jobsite happily walking on his own two legs, the scooter no longer necessary.

His advice for anyone who needs to go to a rehabilitation hospital is to trust in the therapists and believe that they know what they are doing. “Controlled pain during therapy is my gain,” said Robert.

Robert wasn’t the only one whose life was changed by this experience. Sarah, inspired by Robert’s care, joined Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital as a night nurse.