Carol Kaufman has always been independent. At 74, she manages two businesses – a consulting firm and a software company – and lives on her own. “I was 100% independent living in a multi-level townhouse with 64 stairs,” she said. However, that independence was lost when she was diagnosed with a heart condition.
On New Year’s Eve, she began to feel sick and when her symptoms didn’t improve, she went to see her doctor. “It took almost three weeks for the doctors to discover what was occurring,” she said. A CT scan at Hackensack University Medical Center revealed Carol had pericarditis – swelling and irritation of the pericardium, the thin, fluid-filled sac covering the outer surface of the heart. She underwent surgery to drain the excess fluid and was in the hospital for five days.
Carol was left with strength, endurance and mobility impairments. Unable to climb stairs and complete daily tasks on her own, she knew intensive rehabilitation would be the next step in regaining her independence. “I need[ed] to find the strategies on how to manage on my own,” she said. “I was very nervous to be home alone.”
A turning point came when her doctor referred her to Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation – Saddle Brook. Her goals upon admission were “to increase my strength, stamina and complete the 64 stairs I have at home.” Carol’s physician-led team of rehabilitation nurses, physical and occupational therapists, and other specialists tailored a treatment plan to help her reach those goals.
“My ah-ha moment was coming to Kessler because it was my bridge to get home. Meeting my therapists and seeing the goals they set for me and with me was key to my successful experience.”
In physical therapy, she focused on improving her endurance and balance. She also participated in group therapy and learned deep breathing strategies to help her climb the stairs on her own. “The breathing strategies really helped me along my stay, especially during group therapy.”
Her occupational therapists gave her the strategies she needed to complete daily activities on her own by simulating her home environment. She learned how to prepare meals in the kitchen, dress herself and get in and out of the car on her own.
“While it initially may have seemed that exercises would be too easy, they actually weren’t … I needed to go step-by-step and build up endurance,” she said. “I learned that for every exercise there really is a goal and objective along the way.”
Her son has been supportive throughout Carol’s recovery. “My son took on the caregiver role for me … He came down from Boston to support me while I was in the hospital.” He planned to return after her discharge from Kessler.
In just under two weeks, Carol was able to climb stairs and complete daily activities on her own. “I feel incredibly better now. I am able to do the stairs at my own pace and what I need to do through the strategies that I was taught at Kessler.”
Carol described her experience as “incredible … exactly what I needed.”
She credited her care team for the progress she made. She looked forward to continuing to build on the gains she made through in-home and outpatient therapy. “My therapy teams really helped me get home,” she said.
Carol offered advice for anyone else in a similar situation: “The people here are really here to help… Listen to what they have to say, especially if you are nervous about something. They get the answers you need.”