PHYSICAL THERAPY DID MORE FOR CECELIA PATTERSON THAN RELIEVE PAIN AND HELP HER WALK. IT ALSO UNCOVERED STRENGTH SHE DIDN’T KNOW SHE HAD AND HELPED HER START A NEW CHAPTER IN HER LIFE.
Two years ago, Cecelia, a 72-year-old retiree from Canonsburg, reached a low point in her life. Foot drop in her left foot—a muscle condition that prevents being able to raise the front of the foot—and low-back pain related to psoriatic arthritis had taken a heavy toll on her quality of life.
“I was unable to bend my left ankle, and I couldn’t walk,” Cecelia says. “I’d lost the ability to do basic, everyday things.”
In late June 2016, on the advice of her physician, Cecelia began a program of physical therapy at Washington Health System. Her program called for land-based and aquatic therapy, but there was one significant problem: Cecelia was terribly afraid of getting in the water. To derive the most benefit from therapy, she would have to overcome a fear she’d lived with all her life.
STEPS TO SUCCESS
At home on her own and in thrice-weekly, provider-led sessions at the wellness center, Cecelia took stretching, walking, lifting weights and working with resistance bands in stride, but getting in the therapy pool, which ranges from three to five feet deep, was another matter.
“We had to get Cecelia to trust us,” says Lisa Shook, PT, Physical Therapist at WHS, of herself and the two physical therapy assistants who worked with Cecelia. “At first, she would just hold on to the rail that runs along the pool. We started by talking her through simple exercises in shallow water. Over time, she realized that if she relaxed, focused on what the therapist was saying and didn’t worry about the water, she could do the exercises.”
One day, Cecelia experienced a breakthrough.
“The physical therapy assistants encouraged me to try walking across the pool, which I’d never done,” she says. “I was a bit leery, but they said I could do it. I started walking, and it felt like God was walking with me. All the fear went away. I’ll never forget it.”
Eventually, Cecelia had no trouble lifting weights and doing kicks, heel raises and squats in the pool. Three months of physical therapy in and out of the water paid off for her in a big way.
“By her last visit, Cecelia reported the pain level in her back as 0 on a 10-point scale,” says Paula Schoeneweis, PTA, Physical Therapy Assistant at WHS. “Physical therapy helped her become stronger and more mobile. She would come in excited to tell us that she felt so much better and could walk around town.”
AT HOME IN THE WATER
The biggest transformation Cecelia underwent was in her attitude toward working out in the water. After her therapy ended in early October 2016, she joined the WHS Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center. She exercises there two to three times per week and is an enthusiastic participant in the water aerobics and aquacise classes, both of which take place in more than 4 feet of water.
Cecelia’s positivity and generosity light up the wellness center. A skilled baker and pastry artist who once spent nearly two weeks studying at France’s prestigious Le Cordon Bleu school, Cecelia
enjoys baking treats for staff members on their birthdays. When she purchases her customary cup of coffee, she’s been known to leave a few dollars to buy a cup for those who come after her. Best of all, she’s a role model.
“Cecelia never lets her limitations stop her from doing anything,” says Marybeth Cadotte, Reception Associate at the WHS Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center. “People who meet her think if she can do something, so can they.”
For Cecelia, the wellness center has done nothing less than change her life.
“I’ve met a lot of people at the wellness center and have so many friends there who look forward to seeing me, and vice versa,” she says. “It’s a different atmosphere than I’ve ever had in my life. It’s
really done a lot for me.”