Helen's story

Helen smiling while sitting in the therapy gym.

Helen Schaible, a retired speech-language pathologist, had seen her fair share of patients going through rehabilitation. But little did she know that she would one day require the same treatment. It all started with what she described as "excruciating pain" caused by lumbar spinal stenosis, which is the compression of the lower spinal cord. This pain left her unable to stand, walk, or even take care of herself on a daily basis.

After several spinal surgeries, the mother of two still experienced a decline in function and increased pain. “The pain was excruciating. I could no longer be upright. Walking and doing things at home were virtually impossible,” she recalled. Helen was taken to the emergency room at Valley Hospital, where she underwent a fourth spinal surgery, a laminectomy, to relieve pressure on her spine by removing a portion of her backbone.

Once medically stable, Helen needed specialized care to continue her recovery. For that, she chose Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation – Saddle Brook. “I heard it was really good,” Helen explained. “As a speech therapist, you hear reputations and I chose Kessler based on what I heard.”

Upon admission, Helen faced a range of physical and occupational challenges. “Everything” was difficult. The invasive surgery and pain left her unable to move or walk independently and in need of assistance to perform daily tasks such as making coffee and cooking. She said, “I was making six minute meals … a lot of ravioli.”

Helen set her sights on regaining the independence to return to her favorite hobbies — traveling, swimming, skiing and being on the lake. “I love to travel and I can’t travel if I can’t walk. And I have a newborn grandson who lives in Nevada. When I get there, I want to be able to hold him,” she said.

Helen’s physician-led team of spinal cord injury specialists, including rehabilitation nurses, physical and occupational therapists and other experts, developed a treatment plan to address her needs and goals. To increase strength and stamina, her physical therapists provided Helen with a range of exercises and used a body-weight supported treadmill to improve her gait. She knew her hard work and determination was paying off when she progressed from a wheelchair to walking with the aid of a walker.

Similarly, her occupational therapists focused on increasing her endurance and improving arm reach through dynamic standing tasks, as well as teaching her strategies to perform self-care. She recalled the creativity of her therapists’ exercises. “I liked when we played Jenga in large groups. The whole thing was meant to build standing endurance. I was distracted by the game, so I didn’t know how long I was standing.” She added, “I didn’t know checkers could be so cut-throat … I had so much fun with the recreational therapist. Everyone is fun here.”

Helen’s determination to strengthen her body and return home began to pay off as she turned a corner in her recovery. “I started going through movements that I couldn’t do before - and without pain,” she explained.

Helen’s trust in her therapists contributed to her progress. “Therapy helps you make the strongest and fastest recovery. Therapists know how to target all the right muscles and use the right techniques to allow me to return to my hobbies.”

Throughout her rehabilitation journey, Helen's family provided rock solid support and eagerly awaited her return home. “They provided me with encouragement and moral support. They will be there to greet me when I get home … and to cook for me.”

She described her Kessler experience as “very positive,” noting the key role her care team’s optimism played in her recovery. “I love the fact that the staff are all positive, upbeat and happy. I think that positivity in staff is really important to patient recovery, and that’s all I’ve seen here.”

Helen advises others and their families facing similar challenges to “stay optimistic and keep working.”