Linda's story

Linda wearing a red sweatsuit and sitting in a therapy gym.

Linda Parker, a cancer survivor and retired teacher, touched many lives over the years helping her students grow into responsible adults. She spent her time doing the things she loved like swimming and bringing joy to others as a certified clown. Linda was busy living her life as a mother of two adult children and wife to John, her husband of 50 years, when everything changed.

On Thanksgiving, Linda was feeling under the weather. After the holiday, she made an appointment with her ear, nose and throat specialist — the same one who diagnosed her with stage IV cancer 10 years earlier. She was diagnosed with bronchitis, but her health continued to decline. On December 8, Linda knew it was something more serious when she woke up barely able to speak. Her arms and legs weren’t working. John immediately took her to the emergency department at TriHealth Bethesda North Hospital.

After a full battery of tests, Linda was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome. She underwent extensive plasma exchange treatments at Bethesda North and began her recovery journey.

Linda’s social worker asked her to think about where she would like to go for the next step on her journey. It was a difficult decision because Linda didn’t know what to expect. After her brother heard good things about TriHealth Rehabilitation Hospital, and one of her Bethesda North nurses recommended the same location, Linda made her decision — TriHealth Rehabilitation Hospital.

On December 28, Linda was transferred to TriHealth Rehabilitation Hospital to continue the next phase of recovery. When she first arrived, she couldn’t move her arms or legs, was having difficulty speaking and swallowing and struggled with self-care activities. It was a scary time, but the hospital’s caring staff soon put her at ease.

Linda’s initial goal was to sit at the edge of a bed without assistance. She worked with occupational therapy on trunk control and arm strengthening. Once she reached that goal, she progressed to performing transfers (moving from one surface to another) with assistance of one person. She was also the first patient at TriHealth Rehabilitation Hospital to use the new Armeo®Spring upper body robotic training tool, used to help regain function in her hand and arm. With increased function in her upper body, therapists also worked with her on activities of daily living including feeding, dressing, showering and toileting.

In speech therapy, Linda worked on strengthening her swallowing muscles to allow her to eat a normal diet and thin liquids. She also worked on strengthening her voice, which was weak and hoarse initially, much like a whisper.

Linda’s physical therapists were focused on getting her walking again. Her therapists worked on strengthening her leg muscles by doing simple leg exercises and using a standing frame for endurance. They also used the LiteGait® harness system, which allowed her to be fully supported and unable to fall while relearning how to walk. She progressed from standing only, to moving one foot forward and back, then the other foot. After using the device a few times, she was able to take her first steps, supporting her own weight using the parallel bars or rolling walker. She quickly progressed to walking in the parallel bars without the LiteGait®. After two days walking in the parallel bars, she progressed to using the rolling walker. Each day she was able to walk a little bit more.

While working with therapy, Linda was especially appreciative of the encouragement she received from her physical therapists. They even developed a victory dance they would do together every time Linda achieved a daily goal.

Linda credits her progress to a positive attitude and the encouragement and skill of her entire therapy team. She especially leaned on two aides who always helped her back and forth to the bathroom. Additionally, her social worker championed her to the next phase of journey with confidence and the knowledge that she will have all of the equipment she will need at home (especially the coveted cushioned toilet seat).

By the end of her stay, Linda was walking short distances without the use of the walker. She was most looking forward to getting back home with her husband and extended family. She knew she had a village to help her when she returned home. She also promised to return to TriHealth Rehabilitation Hospital when she is able to help other patients. As a certified clown, Linda is excited to share her great attitude as she “clowns around” with patients and helps them on their own journeys.

Hospital staff recently received a video of Linda walking across her house independently without a rolling walker.

When asked what she would like to share with future Guillain-Barré patients (and others considering TriHealth Rehabilitation Hospital), her response was simple: “Always have a positive attitude and celebrate the little victories. Gather your family and friends around you to help with your mental and physical journey of recovery. Have faith in the Lord and know that you can do it.”