By Mercy's Jaclyn Bardin
Judy Altizer, a car accident survivor, has a whole lot to be thankful for this holiday season.
Last Thanksgiving, 23-year-old Altizer was driving home from college to celebrate the holiday with her family when she drove over loose gravel causing her to overcorrect and roll her car twice. She was thrown about 45 feet from her vehicle.
Altizer was in a coma for 28 days and underwent eight surgeries. She suffered memory loss due to a traumatic brain injury, 24 broken bones and 13 broken vertebrae in her back; had a rod placed in her right femur from her kneecap to her hip and two brackets in the tibia/fibula in her left leg; and had a stent inserted in her carotid artery.
The doctors told her parents she may never walk again, but Altizer proved them wrong thanks to her persistence and therapy services at Mercy.
“Without all my family, doctors and therapists pushing me and telling me it was going to take time but that I could do it, I wouldn’t be here,” said Altizer. “I take each day as a new challenge and I don’t take anything for granted anymore.”
From Near-death Experience to New Outlook on Life
From March through May of this year, Altizer went to physical therapy and speech therapy appointments at Mercy two or three days a week. Physical therapists helped her increase her range of motion and build her strength. Speech therapists tested her by providing random words for her to write sentences, and worked with her on improving her memory.
“I never really thought much about speech therapy, but it wasn’t easy and I didn’t see the point of it initially,” said Altizer. “Now I can talk about something and remember it 20 minutes later. Before therapy, I couldn’t. I was so lost.”
Her therapists helped her set goals and create checklists to overcome her memory loss.
In May, she reached her first monumental goal when she walked across the stage at her college graduation. She recently met another goal when she began a job at a local nursing home.
“I wouldn’t have been able to go to work without therapy,” she said. “It wasn’t even an option because I couldn’t even remember someone’s name or what they liked to do.”
About Therapy Services
Therapy services are appropriate for a variety of patients, whether they need assistance with back, neck, arm or leg pain; are recovering from an injury or surgery; need to make a few changes to their routine to manage pain; want help after having a stroke or in dealing with a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis; or are overcoming weakness after a hospitalization.
Mercy offers physical, occupational and speech therapies. Physical therapy builds muscle strength, enhances range of motion, and improves mobility, balance and coordination. Occupational therapy develops skills for independent living so patients can prepare meals, do laundry, drive and complete work-related tasks. Speech therapy helps patients who have difficulty communicating due to speech, language, memory or cognition problems.
“We always tell patients that we can get them back on their feet and make them smile and laugh all while sweating,” said Erin Scammahorn, a manager of physical medicine at Mercy. “I am very proud of our therapy services and our ability to accommodate the varying needs of our patients to help them meet their goals. Therapy is often hard for the patient and we are there to encourage them and ensure they follow through with their care.”
Altizer was thankful to have high-quality therapy care close to home and her family as she spent months recovering from her car accident.
“I’m glad it’s local and you don’t have to go anywhere” outside of the area for treatment, she said. “If it wasn’t that convenient, I probably would not be where I am today and doing as well as I am.”
Mercy is the fifth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves millions annually. Mercy includes 34 acute care hospitals, four heart hospitals, two children’s hospitals, three rehab hospitals and two orthopedic hospitals, nearly 700 clinic and outpatient facilities, 40,000 co-workers and more than 2,000 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.