By Mercy's Brad Haller
Four brain surgeries, 37 rounds of radiation and years of physical therapy – you could say it’s been a rough decade for Kim Dennis. The 56-year-old’s long road to recovery hit the fast track when she found Mercy Rehabilitation Hospital Springfield, a new facility created in partnership between Mercy and Centerre Healthcare.
“I knew I needed something for quite a while, but I just didn’t know what it was until I got here,” she said on her seventh and final day at the 60-bed facility in south Springfield. Her journey began on September 11, 2001, which also happened to be her 44th birthday. “A lot of people ask me what I was doing that day and I remember it clearly. I was at St. John’s preparing for my first surgery.” You could call it a birthday gift: doctors successfully removed a tumor from the left side of her brain and ordered radiation, regular MRIs and physical therapy.
“But four years later, the tumor came back, so I was in for back-to-back surgeries in Texas,” recalled Dennis. “That was followed by another surgery a few years later, and that’s when I suffered damage from the radiation.” Dennis noticed her memory and cognitive skills were fading, and so was her ability to walk or use her right hand and right leg. Her optimism, however, remained intact. “It could have been far worse. The doctor said it’s the best place to have a brain tumor if you have to have one. It’s the easiest area for resection.”
Vowing to rebound, Dennis spent two hours a week in outpatient neurological rehab at Mercy Springfield. As the years went by, Dennis was ready to step it up. “I still struggled with using a walker, so everybody kept telling me about Mercy’s new rehabilitation hospital and how it’s a far cry from a hospital setting. I said, ‘Let’s do it,’ and I had the pleasure of being their first patient!”
Dennis knew the moment she entered the front door of the 63,000 square-foot facility that she was in good hands. “Everyone came out to meet me. It was so overwhelming, but in a good way.” Walker in tow, Dennis couldn’t get in the door without assistance from a wheelchair. “I thought, ‘Thank you Lord, because these people are going to help me and get me to where I can function the best in my daily functions and give me the tools to do that.’”
Those smiling greeters switched gears to become Dennis’ personal coaches, walking her through three solid hours of therapy a day, including physical, occupational and speech therapy. “We worked on walking, coordinating her steps when she was walking, and improved her posture and balance,” said physical therapist Jenna Smith. “We’d go up and down the stairs like she would at home. We were also able to do some core stabilization, in addition to balance and strength exercises.”
“I could feel my legs getting stronger,” added Dennis. “They also taught me to conserve energy, which is the key to being able to move better.” Her environment allowed her to push herself and apply what she’d just learned. “When I was at therapy in the hospital, I’d gotten to where I didn’t want to walk very long. But here I walked all the way to the gym and all the way back to my room several times.”
Large windows and picturesque landscapes throughout the hospital made it worth the effort. Dennis’ room, with soothing colors and modern accommodations, was built with privacy and comfort in mind. “It’s absolutely beautiful,” she said. “My husband was very comfortable when he’d visit me.” It was her safe haven, but Dennis preferred exploring.
“Everyone is encouraged to walk down and pick out what they want at our cafeteria and socialize with staff and other patients,” explained Smith. “They certainly can take the food back to their room for a private setting, but Kim was a socializer.”
“Well, I’d gotten to the point where I didn’t want to eat in front of people,” said Dennis. “It was too messy and embarrassing, but they gave me a swivel spoon and bowl guard, which really helped. Now I’m glad I visited the cafeteria, because it really sets this place apart, especially how everybody comes down to eat – and the food is fantastic!”
Specialized spaces on both floors of the hospital allow therapists to simulate home environments. “If they’re used to cooking, we can come up with a menu and they can make something,” added Smith. “We even have a car for them to practice getting in and out of so they can do it safely when they get home.”
On her seventh and final day, Dennis confidently pushed her walker out the front door, leaving the wheelchairs in her wake. “I’m more in control,” she said with a smile. “I’m ready to garden and quilt, and my church is going to be so shocked to see my progress. I’m taking a lot of tips and tools with me. The people here are just amazing and God has really helped all of us get through this. There is healing, hope and prayer; it’s the Mercy way.”
To learn more about Mercy Rehabilitation Hospital of Springfield, a joint venture between Mercy and Centerre Healthcare, visit http://bit.ly/MercySGFRehab.
UPDATE on April 23, 2015: Kim says her latest MRI came back clear. While she has given up driving altogther (to conserve her energy), she's spending lots of time traveling to visit her grandchildren.