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The Long Road Home

St. Mary’s helps heart attack survivor return to independent living

doris smilingOn Jan. 2, 2011, Doris Cleghorn was looking forward to going to Gainesville with her daughter for an appointment her daughter had there. True, she felt a little tired and short of breath as they left Athens, but she figured she had simply over-exerted herself during the holidays.

As they neared Gainesville, Doris began to experience extreme heaviness in her chest and difficulty breathing. They pulled into a medical office building and found a physician who immediately rendered aid and called for an ambluance as Doris lost consciousness.

At the hospital in Gainesville, Doris’ physicians found she had suffered a heart attack, had a serious chest infection, had fluid building in her lungs and was struggling with heart failure, a condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to keep up with the body’s needs. They began aggressive treatment and placed her on a ventilator, but her symptoms continued to worsen. Soon they put her in a medically-induced coma to help stabilize her. No one knew if Doris would make it through the night.

“Prayer pulled me through those days,” she says. “I was amazed to learn how many people were praying for me.”

Doris pulled through and eventually was able to breathe on her own, but she was far from well. Her vocal chords and surrounding muscles were damaged from being intubated, leaving her unable to speak. Her heart function was low, and she was far too weak to walk. Faced with a choice between disability and intensive therapy that might help her regain independence, Doris came back to Athens in mid-February to begin rehabilitation.

Road to Recovery

Doris was referred to St. Mary’s Center for Rehabilitative Medicine, the area’s only inpatient acute care rehabilitation facility. St. Mary’s is also the only hospital in the Athens area certified by The Joint Commission for heart failure care.

“I was so relieved to know I could recover right here in Athens,” Doris says. “My first hospitalization kept my children away from their work and families, and I hated the thought of doing that to them again.”

Doris spent 16 days in the CRM, located on the 5th floor of St. Mary’s Hospital. “Every day I did three hours of therapy,” Doris shares. “At first I didn’t think I could do it, but I just knew I couldn’t let my kids down. I thought of all the people who were praying for me, and I committed myself to my recovery.”

Dedicated therapists helped Doris recover abilities she feared she might have lost forever, including the ability to speak. Her speech/language pathologist soon had her making sounds and not long after that, forming words.

“I love to talk more than anyone I know, and I couldn’t,” she says. “As soon as I could talk I called my best friend, Rachel. She and I have been friends for 49 years. I said in a whisper, ‘Can you believe it? Of all people, I couldn’t talk!’.

“If I were in a nursing home, or doing the therapy on my own I never would have spent three hours every day in therapy,” she says. “It would have taken me three times as long to make the progress I made at St. Mary’s.”

Home Health Care

Doris was motivated by her dream to return to her own home. But it was not going to be easy, she says. “I was 30 years old when we moved to this house, and I guess at that point I didn’t expect to ever get old. In order to get anywhere in my house you have to go up a minimum of seven steps.”

Fortunately, Doris’ daughter lives nearby and Doris was able to live with her after discharge. St. Mary’s Home Health Care Services brought the care Doris needed right to her daughter’s home, allowing her daughter to continue to work.

Home health nurses, communicating with Doris’ physician, managed her Coumadin, tracked her vital signs and monitored her heart and lungs. She continued speech/language and occupational therapy, and monitored her key vital signs each day with St. Mary’s Telehealth system.

She also worked with Allen Sosebee, a veteran physical therapist who focused on helping her master the skills needed to return to her own home.

“Allen knew I had to manage seven stairs, so we practiced stairs,” she says. “He built strength in my legs, and he encouraged me to push myself. When we started together I struggled to walk around half of the cul-de-sac, and by the time we finished I could walk around it three times.

“I am so thankful that I chose St. Mary’s Home Health Care,” she adds. “They know exactly what you need. They committed to my recovery; I had no choice but to match their effort. Every exercise I did and every therapist I had worked with me to meet my personal goals.”

Today, Doris continues striving to stay out of the hospital and on track to a strong, healthy life. “St. Mary’s taught me how to manage a healthy lifestyle. I keep up with my diet and exercise plan. I pace myself, and I feel myself getting stronger. I feel stronger just being home.”

About St. Mary’s Home Health Care

St. Mary’s created the state’s second hospital-based home care organization in 1970, bringing nurses, therapists, aides and social work services into homes across a multi-county region of Northeast Georgia. 706-389-2273.

About St. Mary’s Center for Rehabiliative Medicine

Providing 24/7 nursing care and at least three hours’ of physical, occupational and speech/language pathology therapy a day, St. Mary’s CRM helps people with a variety of serious conditions maximize their recovery. 706-389-3550.

To learn more, visit St. Mary’s Home Health Care and Center for Rehabilitative Medicine pages.

November is National Home Health Care/Hospice Services Month.