James' Story

James standing in the hospital hallway without any assistance.

James Harrer was in a dark place. Feeling depressed, the 38-year-old let health needs slip, skipped prescribed medications that controlled chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and generally neglected well-being.

By late fall, he began having trouble breathing. Weakness overcame him, causing a fall.

James was brought to the local hospital, but continued to decline. Transferred to a regional medical center, he fell into respiratory failure.

Complications, including dangerously low blood pressure and shock, compounded. Connected to a ventilator, James was proned (laid stomach-down), placed in a coma and supplied with medication via the breathing machine. He required a tracheostomy for airway support and feeding tube.

After a month, James turned a corner and his family could consider the next step in care. They chose Select Specialty Hospital – Erie for its experience in ventilator liberation and pulmonary rehabilitation.

James said he was hoping for a second chance.

“When I woke up at the regional hospital, I realized that I put myself there,” he said. “But, I also recognized that I do have people who care about me.”

James wanted to get back to them all – especially his fiancée Holly, her children and his daughter. The Erie care team created a plan to get him there.

“At the other hospital, I didn’t do much besides lay in bed,” he said. “As soon as I got here, the therapy was almost immediate.”

James’ respiratory team began a liberation program, gradually stepping back machine support while leading breathing, coughing and chest exercises. James shared, “One therapist continually made me laugh, keeping my spirits up.”

James liberated from the ventilator within two weeks and began concentrating on regaining physical strength.

“I took it day by day,” James said. “I paced myself, just like you do in life.”

The amount of personal attention surprised him, as that hadn’t been his prior experience in other facilities. He admitted at times, bit of tough love was necessary, and each attempt led to new success. 
“They said, ‘James, you’re going to stand today.’ And I did, with help. That progressed to standing by myself and walking down the hall. Then I started really pushing myself. I made myself walk to the bathroom in my room without the walker.”

Progress continued and airway support was removed, allowing normal breathing and speech.

In just under three weeks James was ready to go home. He departed for his mother’s ranch home, with plans for continued outpatient physical therapy. His ultimate goal is to return to Holly and the kids.

James is grateful for all the support and care given at Select Specialty Hospital – Erie.

“I have done more in these past 20 days than I have in the past 20 years,” he said.