Dion's story

Dion Watson during rehabilitation

In early winter, Dion Watson of Marlton found himself battling pneumonia, but that wasn't the only health challenge he faced. As he battled the illness, he noticed his feet starting to swell, which set off alarm bells. His brother wasted no time and rushed him to Virtua Mount Holly Hospital.

Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse upon admission. Dion, a 47-year-old corrections officer, struggled to breathe, had slurred speech and experienced weakness on his left side. After undergoing tests, the diagnosis was clear: Dion had suffered a stroke.

To compound matters, a blood clot had formed in one of his heart's ventricles, blocking blood flow. With his energy waning, he was transferred to Virtua Health & Wellness Center –Camden for specialized neurological care. Given his cardiac complications, he was fitted with a cardiac LifeVest, a wearable defibrillator designed to regulate his heart rate.

Once his condition stabilized, the father of three was transferred to Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation – Marlton to regain his independence. Upon arrival, he had weakness on the entire left side of his body, impaired coordination and paralysis rendered him unable to move or walk on his own.

According to his therapists, Dion was motivated from the start. His goals were to “be able to walk and use my left side again” and return to the roles and activities he loves including being a father, brother and son, and going to the movies and restaurants. His physician-led team of rehabilitation nurses, physical, occupational and speech therapists, and other specialists, developed a treatment plan to help him meet those goals.

The care team worked him through several different physical therapy exercises to improve his balance, strength and mobility including step-up and gait training exercises. He especially enjoyed walking during his therapies. Literally step-by-step, Dion made strides, progressing to the point where he could climb stairs with minimal assistance and stand with the support of a cane.

His occupational therapists introduced adaptive techniques to help him back to his daily activities such as getting dressed, bathing and feeding himself. In parallel, Dion worked closely with his speech therapist to improve his memory and cognition through various information retention games and exercises.

Dion's care team attributed his remarkable progress to his unwavering determination, dedication and collaboration with the Kessler care team. By the end of his rehabilitation journey, he had achieved the ability to walk, stand, climb stairs and perform all his daily activities under supervision. His memory had also shown significant improvement.

Deemed a “star patient,” Dion shared one piece of advice for others going through a similar situation: “Do everything they tell you to do…it’ll work out for you in the long run.”