Rehabilitation Medicine Unit: Patient Stories
Doug MacDonald’s near fatal health scare came with an ironic twist. In 2009, he was the safety manager for Public Service New Hampshire (now Eversource), tasked with working alongside state and Manchester city health officials on an emergency response plan to a potential catastrophic flu pandemic.
“Public health leaders were deeply concerned about the impact of the H1N1 flu on our state and its citizens,” remembers Doug. “The flu virus threat was in the news on a regular basis and we needed to prepare a thorough action plan.”
Doug soon developed a nasty cough that quickly knocked him on his back. He was diagnosed with H1N1, the very bug he was tasked with fighting. The virus progressed and he was diagnosed with pneumonia, slipped into a coma, and spent five weeks on CMC’s Intensive Care Unit.
“I don’t have much of a memory of my time in the hospital, but I remember coming out of my coma and I couldn’t speak because of the respirator and I was immobile from being in bed for so many weeks,” he says. Ten days after waking up, the best he could do was move his fingers and toes. “That was my starting point,” he recalls.
Doug was transferred to the Rehabilitation Medicine Unit at CMC where he would spend the next five weeks. At the beginning, he was convinced he would never be the same, yet everyone on the staff believed the opposite.
“From day one, the goal was going from completely immobile to walking out of CMC. I remember thinking, ‘what are they, nuts?!’” Doug got up and took a single step and got back into bed.
One step eventually turned into ten, then 15 and 20. “The RMU staff was incredible. This rehab was a series of small steps and little accomplishments. Every day you do a little more than the day before. And everyone was extremely encouraging.”
In weeks, Doug gained confidence. His breathing tube was removed and he slowly regained the ability to speak. Speech therapists on the RMU taught him to chew, swallow and eat on his own again.
“I remember thinking how lucky I was that I was getting better because I was surrounded by other patients who had larger challenges and much longer roads. Everybody there was working towards getting me better and getting me out of there.” Even the janitorial staff was encouraging and would stop and talk to him about his recovery, always offering kind words.
After five weeks, Doug walked out of CMC with nothing more than a barely-visible scar at the base of his throat. He goes back to visit on occasion, just to say hi. He considers the RMU team part of his family because, “they are just that good.”
Doug retired a few months after leaving the hospital and was able to play many cherished rounds of golf with his dad before he passed on. Now he spends time with his young grandchildren and travels the world with his wife.
“My focus now is on true quality of life, and I have that thanks to the entire team at the Rehabilitation Medical Unit.”
Strength can be measured and defined in many ways – by character, ability, intellect, and resilience. To possess any one of these attributes is desirable. To who know her well would say Sarah Lord is a total package of all of these qualities, and then some.
In her young life, she has already overcome more health challenges than most people will face in a lifetime. As a child, she discovered artistic ability that became her passion, but she was also diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. “I grew up a gymnast, cheerleader, honor roll student, and I worked hard to manage my diabetes, but once I got to college,” she recalls, “I couldn’t manage my health care on my own.”
Diabetes proved to be a major challenge to Sarah’s daily life. As a young adult, her kidneys failed and she relied on dialysis for survival. At one point, she developed double pneumonia and was transferred to a Boston hospital where a medical mistake forced the amputation of her right hand. With her kidneys in full failure, doctors put the young woman in a medically induced coma where she laid dormant for three months. Medical teams worked to stabilize her and help her recover.
“When I came to, I had been in a coma for about two months and I couldn’t walk, and I lost the use of my hand,” says Sarah. “I was starting over and I was scared.”
Sarah shifted around to various rehab clinics in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but nothing fit. “A few times, I called my parents the same day I was admitted and asked them to come get me; that this wouldn’t work.”
Eventually, her parents suggested the Rehabilitative Medicine Unit at CMC, and Sarah found the perfect fit. “I didn’t know it then, but the RMU would be at my side for a few years, helping me overcome repeated challenges. They made an enormous difference in my life.”
Sarah’s challenges were far from over. She suffered a fall and broke both hips, ending up in a wheelchair. The RMU team laid out a daily plan to help get her walking again. She received a kidney transplant, then a pancreas transplant. While those surgeries we done at Massachusetts General Hospital she continued to turn to the RMU to master tasks large and small using only her left hand. When Sarah needed an operation on her Achilles tendon and later to repair toes damaged by the time spent in hospital beds, she returned to RMU to get back on her feet.
“The doctors, nurses and staff kept saying, ‘You can be everything you were before, but you have to learn it differently.’ There were times I had doubts, but they made sure I saw steady progress. Conquering small challenges lead me to big success.”
She learned to paint with her left hand, helping her rediscover her creativity and cope with the loss of right hand. Today, Sarah is active and has taken up running– something she couldn’t imagine just a few years ago.
Sarah considers the nearly three years she spent in and out of CMC’s Rehabilitative Medicine Unit time well spent. “So often at night, as I fall asleep, I think about how lucky I was to have the RMU team to work with me and get over what I went through. I simply could not have done it without them.”