Beloved teacher battles back from rare neurological condition
At 57, Linda Getz had built a comfortable life. For 30 years, she taught middle school social studies where she was a beloved coworker and student favorite.
Outside of school, Linda lived with her brother, Denny, cared for her dogs, Nikki and Hope, and tended to a menagerie of guinea pigs, turtles, cats and birds. Ever the instructor, Linda also ran sewing classes making comfort stuffed animals from shirts and blankets of deceased loved ones.
In early July, Linda awoke feeling odd. Her tongue was swollen, and breathing became difficult. She asked Denny to drive her to the emergency room at Bethesda Butler Hospital.
The last thing she remembers is being prepared for an MRI. It was frightening, Linda later recalled, because she’d never been sick and the crisis appeared suddenly.
Continuing to decline, Linda became weak and unable to move her tongue. Testing uncovered myasthenia gravis, a rare neuromuscular disorder caused by a communication breakdown between nerves and muscles.
The condition affected her ability to breathe and Linda was placed on a ventilator then transferred to Good Samaritan Hospital’s neurological intensive care. There, she was sedated, given a plasma exchange, high-dose corticosteroid therapy and antibiotics. Surgeons also placed a tracheostomy for airway support and feeding tube.
When Linda regained consciousness, she could not understand what had happened. Adding to the confusion, awkward, colorful images filled her vision field.
After a month, Linda stabilized and transferred to Select Specialty Hospital – Cincinnati for ventilator liberation and rehabilitation.
Linda longed to return home, so a physician-led team of therapists, nurses, dietitians and pharmacists created a plan for success.
At first, two therapists had to help Linda move and take care of daily needs. She tired quickly during physical therapy. She also battled anxiety knowing that the sessions were so critical to improvement.
“It was overwhelming and frustrating,” Linda said. Some days, she could only spend 30 minutes sitting in a chair during mobility sessions.
In spite of it all, Linda refused to give up. Denny, her pups, critters and kids at school needed her, and she needed them.
Two weeks into her stay, Linda started demonstrating significant progress.
She liberated from the ventilator and tolerated the speaking valve inserted into her airway support. It was the “a-ha” moment she needed to see recovery was possible.
Linda performed rounds of exercises with the speech therapist, passed a swallowing safety study and began the transition back to food with the help of our dietitian.
Her physical and occupational therapists cheered on Linda as she regained mobility. Each day, she practiced sitting at the bed’s edge, standing up and pivoting into a chair, needing less help each time.
Meanwhile, occupational therapists concentrated on increasing upper body strength for daily living activities. Linda built up to walking the halls with a rolling walker under supervision.
With much of her hospitalization occurring when visitation was restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Linda is grateful she had so much support from her Select Specialty Hospital care team.
“Everyone was so helpful,” she Linda shared. “I couldn’t have done it without their kind and caring attitudes. I knew that they wanted to help me be successful. I wanted to perform to the best of my ability.”
After a month and a half, Linda was ready for the next step in healing. She was discharged to an inpatient rehabilitation hospital, where she spent several weeks continuing to rebuild her strength and stamina.
Linda aims to be back in the classroom by early 2021.