After his wife slipped and broke her ankle on the stairs leading to a storage area in their home, Jack Domer told her, “We’re going to lock that room and throw away the key!” But five years later, the 81-year-old retiree and Navy veteran literally followed in his wife’s footsteps. Headed down with a vacuum in one hand to clean up after a small invasion of squirrels, he missed the last two treads and tumbled to the floor.
Jack was rushed to Overlook Hospital. X-rays and a CT scan showed no fractures, but an MRI revealed ruptures in the gel-like disks between the bones or vertebrae in his neck and back, as well as a narrowing of the space or compression around the spinal cord, causing pain and limiting function. To relieve the pressure and stabilize his spine, Jack underwent common but complex surgeries, including a laminectomy and spinal fusion.
Unable to walk, perform the most basic of tasks, walk or even get out of bed, Jack was transferred to Kessler to begin his rehabilitation. His physician-led team focused his treatment on rebuilding strength, restoring mobility, relieving pain and regaining the skills to help Jack achieve his goals: “To go home and do all the things I did before.”
That meant being under the watchful eyes of his doctors and nurses to monitor his medical needs and manage his pain. It also meant working with his physical therapists to build his strength and learn to stand, transfer and use a walker safely. Jack relied on his occupational therapists to help him improve his skills and give him the strategies to perform daily activities, like dressing and bathing, and make his way around the kitchen. “I do all the cooking ... and I have to admit I am one heck of a chef!” said Jack, who was the deli manager at a local supermarket for more than 35 years.
As he progressed, Jack also benefitted from constraint induced movement therapy to increase the use of his arms and hands and body-weight supported locomotor training to improve his mobility. A turning point came when he walked without assistance. Jack appreciates that that his physical therapist knew when he needed to rest – and when he was ready to push. “He would say, ‘No, we’re not done here’ and that’s when I knew I could do this. I could feel the strength coming back.”
Jack’s team also challenged him with activities he would encounter every day at home, like navigating uneven surfaces, such as going from a concrete surface to grass, and climbing stairs. “My biggest moment was getting to that top step,” he said.
Jack rates his Kessler experience as “100% out of 100%,” praising the combination of care and therapies he received, as well as the patience and encouragement of his team. “They made me believe I could walk on water,” he said laughingly.
Jack and his wife also participated in Kessler’s family education and training programs to prepare them for a safe return home. Speaking of that, Jack noted that he’s looking forward to “angel hair pasta and meat balls. It’s the thinnest pasta and it doesn’t fill you up at all.” Gardening, tea in the morning and long strolls with his wife also rank high.
Asked what he learned about himself in rehabilitation, Jack turned reflective. “It just confirmed that if you give me something to do, don’t expect me to stop there. I am going to do more and get better at it.”
Jack also emphasized the importance of trust. “You have to learn to trust the people who care for you. They’re here for a reason - to help you get better. They put their trust in you to work hard ... and you have to trust them to do their job as well.”