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Joe Poelker
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Release Date: 3/25/2013

It takes a team ... and a motivated patient

Valencia Schuler stands with the help of her husband and therapist.

Valencia Schuler, a 29-year-old mother of three young boys, never imagined that one day she would become paralyzed.

“I’m going to miss this place.”

The young woman gripped the sides of her red wheelchair as she looked wistfully around the Acute Rehabilitation gym. The two women standing next to her smiled.

“I bet you never thought you’d say that!” exclaimed the woman to her left.

They all laughed as they shared a private moment and the woman conceded that she never thought she’d miss the tough therapy sessions with her therapists in the gym.

Valencia Schuler, a 29-year-old mother of three young boys, never imagined that one day she would become paralyzed. She was a young, healthy woman who took care of her family while her husband was away serving the military. She never dreamed that her life would turn upside down in the course of a few days. But that’s what happened. At first, she thought she had the flu because she had a cough and felt dehydrated. When her fingers and toes started to feel numb, she decided to seek medical attention at St. Anthony's Medical Center.

In just a few days, she went from being healthy to having numb fingers and toes, to not being able to stand or even sit up. Schuler was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). GBS is a rare autoimmune disease, affecting one to two persons per 100,000 in the U.S., which causes patients to lose motor function, starting with the extremities. If it reaches the diaphragm, it can be fatal. Recovery is spontaneous and complete in the vast majority of patients, but may take more than a year.

When Schuler was admitted to the Acute Rehabilitation department, she was very weak. She could not stand on her own, she could not feed or bathe herself; she was completely dependent on others. Her physician, Harmeen Chawla, M.D., predicted a four-week stay in Acute Rehab. Schuler was devastated by the news that she couldn’t return home to her three young sons. With a husband in the military, Schuler was used to taking care of everything on the home front. It was very hard for her to relinquish control and accept help from others.

“It was really hard being here because I was the one to do everything at home. I was the only constant in my sons’ lives,” said Schuler, an Oakville resident.

Carrie Wetzel, a social worker in the Acute Rehab department, assisted Schuler and her husband, Adam Schuler, with insurance matters. Wetzel also helped Schuler realize that her journey to recovery would be a long one, but one she could get through. She assisted in explaining the plan for Schuler’s care, listened to Schuler’s expectations and helped her set realistic goals.

Geri Tyrey, a Recreation Therapist who coordinates mentors, connected Schuler with a woman who had recovered from GBS. Tyrey thought this woman was the perfect match for Schuler because when she had GBS, she also had young children. Listening and venting to someone who had been through what she was going through really helped Schuler stay positive and motivated, so much so that when Schuler recovers, she hopes to start a local GBS support group.

Wetzel was glad Tyrey found someone who could relate to Schuler’s situation and help her stay motivated.

“When we have a younger person like Valencia, who is going to be here for a while, it takes a whole team to support her needs,” Wetzel said.

While Wetzel helped care for Schuler’s emotional and insurance needs, Janelle O’Bannon, her physical therapist, and Shannon Elmore, a certified occupational therapist assistant, helped her get where she needed to be physically.

O’Bannon worked with Schuler on her lower extremities, focusing on exercises to strengthen and stretch the legs.

“When she first came to us, Valencia couldn’t move her legs to get out of bed. Now, she can get out of bed with occasional help,” O’Bannon said.

After just four weeks of therapy, Schuler was able to stand for 22 minutes. O’Bannon was very happy with Schuler’s progress and she expects Schuler to make a full recovery in time.

“I wish I could continue working with you as you continue to get stronger,” O’Bannon told Schuler during their last session together.

“I know! I’m going to miss working with you,” Schuler responded.

It was clear that these two women formed a bond while working together toward Schuler’s recovery.

“Valencia has been here for a month – we definitely form a relationship with patients who have been here that long,” Elmore said.

Elmore worked with Schuler on self-care and strengthening her upper extremities. They worked on feeding, grooming, bathing and toileting, as well as transferring to and from the bed and wheelchair.

“She was very motivated and worked very hard. I knew from the beginning that she would be great to work with,” Elmore said of Schuler. “Her positive attitude and motivation pushed her to get to the position she needed to be in to go home to her husband and sons. I am very proud of her and how far she’s come. I will definitely miss her.”

After four weeks of therapy, Dr. Chawla, who had been overseeing all of her therapies, medical care and medicine management, decided Schuler was well enough to complete her recovery at home.

“Valencia is a sweetie. She is very positive and motivated. She worked incredibly hard and listened to everything we had to say and really gave 110 percent. She made oodles of progress in Acute Rehab. I expect her to make a complete recovery in time,” Chawla said.

Wetzel helped Schuler make plans for her return home. She set up home care and Schuler arranged for friends and family to help her.

“I told her that I think the first couple of weeks at home will be rough. She will have to adjust and get used to a new normal,” Wetzel said.

While Schuler was excited to return home, she said she would miss everyone in Acute Rehab.

“They’re like my own little family. They really pushed me. They wouldn’t let me give up – even on my worst days,” Schuler said as her eyes filled with tears.

With the help of home care and outpatient therapy, Schuler expects to make a full recovery in time. “I need to be that mom again – I need to be able to take them out to play and take them to the zoo. There’s so much fight in me. I know I can do it.”

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