Our Patients Inspire Us

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Kurt Lauritzen, RRT: From Bed to Bedside

Kurt’s journey to his job at HSC is a bit unusual. Once a bricklayer who learned his trade at an early age, Kurt has joined our staff as a Respiratory Therapist.

In 1997, 28-year-old Kurt Lauritzen found himself feeling unusually weak. He was admitted to the John Dempsey Hospital at the University of Connecticut Health Center and diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Within hours, this robust young man was intubated, paralyzed, and quite frankly, scared.

Kurt arrived at Hospital for Special Care in June 1997 and was admitted to our Close Observation Unit (COU) for ventilator weaning and physical therapy. Under the care of Dr. Paul Scalise and the COU staff, Kurt faced months of hard work to get healthy. He dealt with fear, anxiety and depression. To focus on something outside the body that he felt had failed him he counted the holes in the ceiling tiles. Kurt says it was the compassion of the clinicians, who made him work hard even when he didn’t want to, that helped him when he got frustrated and down.

Successfully weaned off the vent, Kurt had to rebuild his physical strength. Finally, in December 1997, after six months at Hospital for Special Care, he went home.

Kurt says that “My experiences here as a patient and having Guillain-Barré, along with having cared for a sick mother and my desire to help others” led him to go back to school to become a Respiratory Therapist (RT). It took a while, but he enrolled at Goodwin College in 2009 and graduated in 2013. Among his instructors at Goodwin were HSC employees Connie Dills and Pamela Held. He went on to say that “I was so impressed by their passion; I want to surround myself with people like that.”

Connie speaks highly of Kurt. “He really is the quintessential RT due to that fact that he has personally experienced much of what we do as Respiratory Therapists. He knows what it’s like to be on a ventilator for a long period of time, to be suctioned, and to be on the receiving end of the multitude of therapies and interventions that we do each and every day. It’s hard to find a better teacher than empathy. As one of his instructors, I observed this quality in Kurt - that he uses empathy as a motivating factor to achieve academic and professional success.”

Pam adds, “Kurt is a very hard worker, avoids drama, and has overcome many personal challenges to be where he is today. He interacts extremely well with patients, is a team player, and we are happy to have him on our per diem staff.”

Now it’s 2016, and Kurt is back at HSC - this time he is on the other side of the bed as a caregiver. He will be an advocate for his patients and a reminder to all staff that we really do Rebuild Lives.

Heriberto "Eddy" Rodriquez: Walking into the Future

While rounding a curve on his motorcycle in the fall of 2014, 27 year-old Heriberto “Eddy” Rodriguez was enjoying a ride with several of his friends. He next remembered waking up in a hospital. A state trooper told him he crashed head-on into a minivan. The exact details remained unclear, but the result did not.

Eddy suffered multiple injuries, including a spinal cord injury that resulted in loss of feeling and movement in his legs. After 11 days at an acute care hospital, Eddy arrived at Hospital for Special Care’s Medical Rehabilitation Unit.

A graduate of Hartford High School, a veteran of four years in the Marines and a para-transit driver for the Greater Hartford Transit District, Eddy was now faced with, as he describes it, “dealing with the reality of it all.”

For the next three months Eddy worked on healing and preparing for a life with new challenges. He worked closely with occupational and physical therapists to learn about his new body and how to get the most from it. With no feeling in his legs, Eddy had to relearn how to balance himself in all positions since his center of gravity had changed. In addition, he was learning how to dress and care for himself - all a part of his “new reality.”

Eddy was discharged in January 2015 with home care and eventually started outpatient therapy at HSC. The clinicians at HSC reviewed options for assistive walking devices that could help patients with injuries like Eddy’s. After evaluating different options, HSC decided to begin working with the ReWalk Personal Exoskeleton. "ReWalk is the only FDA cleared exoskeleton system for rehabilitation and personal use at home and in the community in the United States," said Scott Reeves, Business Development Manager at ReWalk Robotics.

The first apparatus was paid for by the Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority (CHEFA) and a corporate donor, the Cowen Tax Advisory Group. After an exhaustive review to find an individual who met the criteria for the ReWalk, Eddy became the first person at HSC (and in Connecticut) to be trained. His training began in May 2015.

As Jenna Murphy, DPT notes, “Eddy is one of the most dedicated and motivated patients I have ever had. He wants to be as independent and self-supportive as he can be.” Eddy now comes to HSC four times a week to practice walking and for rehabilitation therapy to maintain and continue to build upper body strength and stamina.

Eddy’s goal is to obtain a ReWalk for his personal use which will give him more independence and enhance his general health. “It’s more of an emotional thing than physical because nobody likes to be sitting down all the time; you like to be able to walk around,” said Eddy. “It’s been interesting – I’ve been taking it day by day, but any opportunity I get to be on my feet, I’ll take it.” Eddy is now pursuing a degree in Computer Information Systems at Capitol Community College.

Given his track record, his dedication, and his smile, we have no doubts that he will succeed in reshaping his “new reality” to his liking.

Rebecca Caldwell: Oneness of a Woman and Her Horse

When you first see Becky Caldwell on a horse you do not think about how she got there or why. You notice the grace and the oneness of woman and horse. And when you speak with her, one of the first things she tells you is “the outside of a horse is great for the inside of a woman.” She is one of those people whose story you want to hear.

Rebecca “Becky” Caldwell went to work one day in 2005 as Associate Vice President for Human Resources at the University of Saint Joseph. The next thing she remembers is waking up 18 days later at Saint Francis Hospital after suffering a ruptured brain aneurysm. She had lost all strength, coordination and balance; and was unable to walk or lift anything.

She returned home determined to maintain an active lifestyle to get her life back. With the support of her husband Brian, Becky researched therapeutic riding options on the internet and found HSC’s Manes & Motions Therapeutic Riding Center in Middletown. She had previously volunteered as an instructor in therapeutic riding and had ridden her own horse, so she understood its value.

Becky says Brian and the Manes & Motions staff and volunteers were integral to her recovery. “When I started riding at Manes & Motions I could not even sit or balance on the horse without being helped by the side walkers. They encouraged me with every little baby step, which became big steps. Now, look at me!”

Therapeutic riding, she says, is “therapy while having a good time. Riding uses your legs and core muscles to communicate with your horse.”

For the past 10 years Becky has ridden weekly at Manes & Motions, now year round, thanks to Manes & Motions new indoor arena. “Janice Anderson of the Manes & Motions staff has been a common denominator in my life for all these years. I appreciate how much she helped me achieve.”

When Becky missed riding at Manes for just a couple of weeks and went on a long car ride, she began to feel a loss of stamina, balance and strength, and it became harder to walk. She credits the horses and people at Manes for helping her maintain her improved physical and psychological state.

Becky exhibits a true commitment not only to her own essence but also to that of others. She talks about how she has seen how the motion of a horse’s legs move children’s muscles and the delight kids feel as they connect with and control a horse.

Becky not only talks the talk but walks the walk as well. She makes a significant financial donation to Manes & Motions every year. Thinking long term, she has included Manes & Motions in her estate plan as a beneficiary of her IRA. She and her husband Brian are recognized for their foresight as members of the Hospital for Special Care Legacy Society.

Brian Savo Story: Normal... But Not Typical

In what seemed like a pretty normal day in the life of an average American family, Brian Savo rushed home from work to meet his wife Maria. Together, they headed to the school where their son Michael, a fourth grader, was to be honored as Student of the Month. The Savo family priorities seemed to be the same as most people - family, home and work, except for one little difference. Brian was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2009.

For two years, Brian had suffered increasingly painful leg cramps, dismissing them as the result of either too much hockey at the age of 30 or a lack of potassium. The cramps caused a minor limp, but he dismissed that as the result of an old torn ACL. Brian, a former prep school hockey player, was an active adult league hockey player who also coached and volunteered at the high school and college levels. Although warm and sweet off the ice, one would not want to have met Brian in the corner of a hockey rink fighting for the puck.

During the course of routine blood work for a recently purchased life insurance policy, Brian Savo’s test revealed creatine kinase. His primary care physician first sent him to a couple of specialists and then, finally, to Dr. Kevin Felice, DO, Chief of Neuromuscular Medicine at Hospital for Special Care. Dr. Felice is the Director of HSC’s Neuromuscular Center, one of only 34 ALS Association Certified Centers of Excellence and the only one in Connecticut. Dr. Felice confirmed a diagnosis of ALS.

Despite the diagnosis, Brian did not slow down. He and Maria started a family business, (Nantucket Custom Flooring), and he kept close with his recreational hockey teams. He continues to coach part-time, attend games and give motivational speeches. Since the diagnosis seven years ago, Maria has assumed day-to-day operations of the Branford-based company, which employs over a dozen people including salespeople and installers. Brian remains a steady presence in the office four or five days a week, working with customers and coordinating jobs.

Dr. Felice notes that “despite the progression of Brian’s disease leading to increasingly more physical limitations, he continues to persevere with absolute courage, grace and a positive outlook. Brian has not allowed ALS to interfere with his true essence, that of a wonderful husband, father and friend. Brian is truly inspirational to all who meet him, freely and openly talking about his illness. He is not only my patient but a very special friend.”

Brian has become especially active in the ALS Association’s annual meetings in Washington, DC. He also chairs the East Haven American Disabilities Act Commission, one which addresses ADA compliance issues, and was recently elected to the East Haven Republican Town Committee.

As Brian and Maria were leaving for the Student of the Month ceremony, they went through their backyard and passed the in-ground swimming pool. Although in the past Brian could get in and out of the pool on his own, he plans to install a lift this summer to help him. Brian simply shrugs this off, stating that “our life is not typical, but it is normal.”

 

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