Helen's story

Photo of Helen Tucci at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.

Helen Tucci, 57, never backed down from a challenge – her friends will tell you that. Diagnosed with lymphoma, she met it head on with chemotherapy. But life was going to deal her another unforeseen obstacle. During chemo, Helen was staying in a long-term care facility in Hackensack. One morning, she woke up to an excruciating backache.

After reporting her condition to her aide and nurse, Helen was taken to Hackensack University Medical Center, where an X-ray revealed multiple spine fractures.
Although relieved to hear that surgery was unnecessary, Helen knew that her journey to regain her active and independent life would be a daunting one. Walking became a daily struggle, and the simplest tasks, like dressing herself, became time-consuming endeavors. Helen soon found herself in search of the best rehabilitation facility to help her reclaim her life.

Helen opted for Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation – Saddle Brook. Upon admission, her goals were clear – to become healthy, strong and independent once again. Despite the anticipated challenges, Helen was eager to embrace the rigorous therapy that awaited her. “People warned me that Kessler was going to work me hard, but I wanted that aggressiveness and motivation because that’s what would help me get better and reach my goals,” she said.

Helen’s physician-led team of rehabilitation nurses, physical and occupational therapists, and other spinal cord injury specialists tailored a treatment plan to help her meet her goals. She found solace and motivation in the supportive environment at Kessler, where her therapists treated her with dignity and patience, inspiring her to keep going. “I notice such a difference here with my rehab team … My aide even would sing with me and that helped my mood.”

A turning point in Helen's recovery came when the rehab team encouraged her to stand and walk with a walker. This was an emotional moment as Helen realized that she was not confined to a life of immobility. “All of a sudden... I can walk,” she said, adding, “I was discouraged at first when I found out about my fractures, but all of a sudden when they handed me the walker, that gave me confidence. I realized what I thought I couldn’t do, I could do.”

Throughout her rehabilitation journey, Helen enjoyed the various therapies and activities offered at Kessler. Among her favorites was the group session that taught her how to organize and manage her medications effectively. She also loved meeting the therapy dog as it lifted her spirits and brightened her days.

Helen's friends played an integral role in her healing process, from attending training sessions at the hospital to helping her with everyday tasks. “They bring me food, bring me clothes, help me with my laundry. My friends really helped me a great deal.”

She eagerly looked forward to the simple pleasures of life – going to the park, shopping and reuniting with her friends' dogs.

Reflecting on her overall rehabilitation experience, Helen praised the order and organization at Kessler, which provided her with a sense of stability and predictability. “I like here that you get a set schedule and you know what to expect. They are like clockwork here,” she said.

Through her journey, Helen discovered an unyielding determination within herself. Witnessing others going through similar hardships at Kessler taught her the power of unity and collective resilience.

To those on their own recovery journey, Helen offered this advice: maintain a positive attitude, stay determined and be disciplined in following the rehabilitation regimen.

"Our moods can change rapidly," she explained, "so you need to practice discipline and know it just needs to get done."