March 26, 2013

Therapy helps woman overcome brain injury


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Barbara and Mike Pavone were childhood sweethearts and married shortly after Barbara graduated from Peru High School in 1972.

They’ve been partners ever since, sharing their lives and strengthening the bond that first brought them together.

That bond was nearly broken in October 2011, however, when Barbara was involved in a serious automobile accident that left her in a coma with severe traumatic-brain injury.

“Barbara was a caregiver for several people in her family,” Mike said of that October morning a few days before Halloween when Barbara and her sister, Patty, were taking her mother, Joyce Conners, to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington for an appointment.

Barbara’s family members suffered minor injuries in the accident, but Barbara was thrown forward from the back seat into the windshield and was transported to Fletcher Allen unconscious and with life-threatening injuries.

“I was at work when I received the call (that Barbara had been in a serious accident),” said Mike, who was working in the Computer Systems department for CVPH Medical Center at the time. “It was a terrible moment.”

Barbara remained in a coma for two weeks. She then woke up but was in a semiconscious state for two months.

“After three months (at Fletcher Allen), she had gotten to a point where she was medically stable and needed to be moved (from the hospital setting),” Mike said. “We needed to start looking more at long-term care.”

She was transferred to CVPH Medical Center’s Skilled Nursing Facility, where she would receive 24-hour care. She was still being fed by tubes and could not perform physical functions. Doctors had given little hope that she would progress much beyond her current condition.

But they did not count on Barbara’s inner determination, her devotion to her faith and the love between her and her family.

“I fooled them,” Barbara said recently as she practiced some e=xercises during her biweekly occupational-therapy sessions at the Wellness Center at PARC’s rehabilitation services.

While at the Skilled Nursing Facility, Barbara began receiving physical, occupational and speech therapy.

“They spent several weeks giving Barb rehab,” Mike said. “They helped her start to walk, helped remove the tube so she could start to eat on her own.”

She advanced to a point where she no longer needed to remain at CVPH but could return home after six weeks of intensive therapy at Fanny Allen rehab center in Vermont.

“When Barb arrived there, their analysis was that she would probably go home in a wheelchair,” Mike said. “She left in a walker. They called her their miracle child.”

She continued therapy on an outpatient basis and will reach her one-year anniversary with CVPH rehab services in mid-April. She has “graduated” from physical therapy and now attends sessions to work on daily activities in occupational therapy and on improving her ability to talk.

“Our objectives, our goals have been very simple, to improve her quality of life,” said CVPH speech therapist Carrie Coty. “We worked as a team, and she worked hard every day; it didn’t matter what the challenge was.”

As she progressed beyond those basic skills, she also started to work on strengthening her communication skills, learning to read and write from scratch. Last October, she was able to write her name but little else. Now, she is writing complete paragraphs, expressing her feelings through words.

She is also working on routine functions with senior occupational therapist Natalie Smith.

“She is able to do her daily routines,” Smith said. “She’s doing more to clean the house, setting the table, playing cards with her friends, walking around the mall.”

“We refuse to set an end goal,” Coty said. “She continues to advance in leaps and bounds. She’s met goals that we didn’t expect her to achieve.”

As she continued through her therapy, Barbara would constantly acknowledge the help she has received from Mike, who has retired from work to spend his days helping Barbara at home; their two children, Robin and Eric; all of the therapists; and God.

“And your own hard work,” Coty added, the pride in her voice speaking for everyone who has helped Barbara battle back from that tragic day when everything changed.

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