Estefani's story

Photo of Estefani Alba celebrating her birthday at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.

Estefani Alba’s life took a dramatic turn on New Year’s Eve. The then 29-year-old inventory specialist and mother of two experienced what she assumed was severe constipation. Instead of celebrating, she went to the emergency room.

When the prescribed treatment didn’t work, she returned to the ER.

“They did a CAT scan and found a mass,” Estefani recalled. “An MRI confirmed and they [noted] it was a tumor.”

Subsequent tests and a biopsy showed that she had chondrosarcoma. Chondrosarcomas is a group of rare bone cancer tumors that begin in a patient’s cartilage.

Facing a challenging surgery, Estefani was transferred to University Hospital in Newark, where she had a complex procedure to remove her sacrum, a triangular bone in the lower back formed from fused vertebrae.

“They operated and took out my whole sacrum and put a prosthesis in,” she continued.

After the surgery, Estefani was unable to move her left leg, walk, sit, stand or empty her bladder. Once she was medically stable, her physicians recommended an intensive inpatient rehabilitation program to help her regain mobility and independence.

Based on its reputation, she chose Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation (KIR) – Saddle Brook to continue her recovery.

Upon arrival at KIR – Saddle Brook, the physician-led rehabilitation team worked with Estefani to put a treatment plan in place. Estefani told her care team she wanted to “walk and do everything on my own.”

Physical therapy activities aimed to strengthen her body and increase her endurance and activity tolerance. With a team of therapists, Estefani's progress was steady. She used various therapies, including practicing stairs and using machines and braces to aid in walking, to further her recovery.

“I feel like the therapists listen to me and give me encouragement,” she exclaimed.

The turning point in Estefani's treatment came when she walked with the ARJO gait-training device, a moment that lifted her spirits and encouraged her to keep focused. Indeed, in just a little more than a month, she regained the ability to walk using a walker, dress herself and move independently from one chair to another.

During her stay at KIR – Saddle Brook, Estefani reached a different kind of milestone, her 30th birthday, where she was able to put on a dress, a tiara and celebrate in style.

Describing her rehabilitation experience, Estefani used a single word, "magical." She felt like her therapists provided her with the guidance and support she needed.

Throughout her rehabilitation, Estefani's family played a vital role in her support system. “I have a beautiful family... [they have] been so supportive,” she said. “They have come in for training and will help me once I get home – they come to visit every day.”

Estefani was excited to reunite with her children upon leaving Kessler – and ready to start home therapy, so she could continue working toward her goals.

Her year was full of celebrations and setbacks, but Estefani said that the journey taught her a powerful lesson: "I can do anything that I put my mind to."

She shared these final words for others who faced with what she went through: “Don’t lose your faith. You can do anything that you want. If you put God first and have faith, you can do anything.”