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Linda Betancourt, a 63-year-old lab assistant from Ochsner Medical Center, began experiencing severe shortness of breath at work. Soon, she found herself struggling to get around at home and at work, causing her to retire.

Testing revealed she was in heart failure due to mitral valve regurgitation. This was Linda’s second bout with heart valve issues – her aortic valve was replaced in 1972.

Surgery was scheduled and Linda arrived at the hospital, ready to start feeling better.

During the procedure, Linda suddenly went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated. The medical team brought her back, but she remained connected to a ventilator. From there, complications cascaded. Her kidneys began to fail, requiring dialysis and multiple intravenous antibiotics to fend off infection.

After a month, Linda was referred to Select Specialty Hospital – Birmingham for extended recovery and to be liberated from the ventilator, continue dialysis and receive wound care.

She arrived unable to breathe on her own, speak, eat or move without assistance. A treatment plan, led by physicians, nurses and therapists, was put in place to get Linda on the path back home.

Respiratory therapists began to gradually reduce ventilator settings and led breathing and chest exercises, expanding Linda’s lung capacity and endurance. Within three weeks, she successfully liberated and had airway support removed.

Linda’s physical and occupational therapists began a mobility program immediately upon arrival.  Using range of motion exercises, they manipulated her arms to get blood flowing with Linda responding more purposefully each day. Speech therapists also led mouth, jaw and tongue exercises to restore Linda’s ability to swallow and speak.

Linda shared that some days, it was difficult to stay motivated but she knew she had to push through to get back home to her family. Her nurses and therapists were by her side cheering every step of the way, even for the smallest victory.

Over time, Linda’s kidneys healed and she no longer needed dialysis. Having met her goals, she was ready for the next step in recovery and transferred to Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital in New Orleans to keep moving toward her goals of returning home and enjoying her previous active lifestyle.

When she arrived at Ochsner Rehabilitation Hospital, Linda was unable to stand without the assistance of two people, nor could she walk due to weakness and shortness of breath. She also was unable to bathe or dress herself. Linda’s goals included standing, walking and performing self-care tasks with independence.

In physical therapy, Linda worked on standing and walking. In the beginning, Linda could only stand for a few seconds and required maximum assistance, but she progressed to being able to stand for longer periods of time with only minimal assistance. Once her standing endurance improved, Linda began taking steps in the parallel bars and walking in the LiteGait, a device that simultaneously controls weight bearing, posture and balance. “My turning point was when I first walked in the LiteGait because I knew I would be able to walk on my own again one day,” said Linda.

Her occupational therapists focused on improving Linda’s independence with dressing, bathing and toileting. She started out needing moderate assistance, and over time was able to do each of these activities with more independence.

Linda’s family, especially her daughter Julie, provided much needed support throughout her recovery. They were able to be present during portions of Linda’s therapy sessions and attended family training, which gave them the knowledge, skills and confidence to assist Linda when she returned home.

After 29 days, Linda met her goals of being able to stand from her wheelchair with just a little help, walk on her own using a rolling walker and independently perform personal care activities.

Upon discharge, Linda shared, “All of our expectations were exceeded by the staff here. My therapists challenged me each day and motivated me to keep going by cheering me on and getting excited when I reached each step in my progress.”

Linda planned to continue recovery with home health therapy services and an outpatient cardiac rehabilitation program. She even set her next goals of riding her bike and exercising on the treadmill again.