Zoe's story

As a registered nurse and a mom to a 12-year-old son, Zoe Lipman, 50, was used to taking care of others. Then, the roles reversed and she found herself in need of assistance.

One day, she woke up and just didn’t feel right. She kept telling her family that something was off. Then, Zoe went downhill quickly and was taken to the emergency department at St. Tammany Parish Hospital. It turned out she had an infection in her spine. She was admitted and remained there for a week before being transferred to Ochsner Medical Center for surgery.

The surgery left Zoe unable to walk or even go to the bathroom on her own. She also had weakness in her left arm leaving her unable to hold things and perform daily living and self-care tasks. That’s when her medical team recommended transferring to an inpatient rehabilitation hospital for extended recovery.  Zoe chose Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital.

When she first arrived, Zoe’s care team discussed her rehabilitation plan, including making her house wheelchair-accessible. Zoe was not fully onboard. Her goal was to return home fully independent and without the use of any equipment. To get there, Zoe knew it would be tough, but she was determined and so were her occupational and physical therapists.

Zoe’s occupational therapy team worked on helping her improve independence with daily living activities such as going to the bathroom, dressing and transferring from a bed to chair/toilet/shower bench. They repeatedly practiced these activities along with supplemental education and safety training. The team also focused on improving Zoe’s grip in both hands using therapy putty. Initially, Zoe was unable to squeeze the hand gripper, but over time and with enough practice, she was able to do it with ease. Finally, therapists helped Zoe increase the range of motion in her left shoulder through exercise and coordination activities.

In physical therapy, Zoe’s team focused on getting her up and walking as well as navigating stairs. Her primary challenges were coordination and sensory deficits making her a high fall risk. She required a physical assist for all mobility. Initially the team honed in on improving gross motor skills with targeted stepping, quadruped positioning (both hands and knees are on the ground) and step ups.  Then, Zoe was presented with a two-pound weight which she couldn’t even lift. However, over time, she progressed to a three pound weight with minimal effort.

Before her illness, Zoe participated in CrossFit and boxing so once her balance improved, therapists started incorporating those elements into her sessions. They started with modified deadlifts and squats. As Zoe's mobility continued to improve, she progressed to modified CrossFit work outs including box jumps, deadlifts and squats, floor transfers and modified push-ups. These workouts provided tremendous motivation for Zoe to keep working hard so she could return to her prior level of function.

The key turning point in Zoe’s recovery was when she started taking steps on her own. It took time, but it gave her the confidence to do it all on her own. Before that moment, Zoe wasn’t sure if she would ever be able to walk again. She said that early on, the sit-to-stand workout was so challenging that it felt like a CrossFit workout, but she pushed through and got it done.

Zoe’s sisters were also a huge help, especially her sister, Paige, who would drive back and forth from Mississippi to visit Zoe, and provide that extra needed support.  Zoe shared,” Paige was such a blessing.  I don’t know what I would have done without her.”  She also said her whole family was very supportive every step of the way, even if only virtually.

After four weeks at Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital, Zoe was ready to return home and able to do so independently. Proudly, she could get in and out of the car, walk up and down stairs, pick up objects off the floor and walk independently without an assistive device. She was thrilled to have achieved her ultimate goal.

But she was even more excited to see her son again. Zoe shared, “COVID-19 has made it hard to live a normal life, as it has for many, but just being able to get back home was a great feeling.”

Zoe offered these words of encouragement for others recovering from the virus, “Never give up.  There’s always hope, and while in rehab if you push yourself and do the things you have to do, then you have the best chance of getting better.”