Joseph's Story

Joseph wearing a black zip-front jacket and standing in the hospital hallway.

Retired New York Police Lieutenant Joseph Rinaldi faced many challenges during his distinguished career, but none had prepared him for what was to come.

One day, in early October, Joseph awoke with an unusual sensation in his right arm. It quickly spread to his left side and he became increasingly concerned. His wife took him to Staten Island University Hospital, where doctors performed a series of tests and ruled out a heart attack. But as the day went on, Joseph had increased difficulty moving his arms or legs.

He was transferred to Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. Additional testing revealed a degenerative disease of his cervical spine, the upper part of spine that extends from the neck to shoulder level, and that the bones were pressing on his spinal cord, causing the tingling and weakness. He underwent a complex surgical procedure called an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion to repair the damaged discs in his neck and relieve the pressure.

When he awoke, Joseph was unable to move. “I couldn’t walk, feed myself or even scratch my nose ... but I was determined to regain my strength and independence. The decision to come to Kessler Institute was easy. We knew of Kessler’s reputation as one of the top rehab hospitals in country, especially for spinal cord injury treatment, and that it was the best place for me.”

Joseph was admitted to Kessler on October 23, ready to work hard toward his goals. His physician-led team of spinal cord injury specialists developed a comprehensive treatment plan geared to address his medical, physical and functional needs. A physiatrist, a doctor board certified in medical rehabilitation, monitored his progress daily and nurses provided support, medication management and reinforcement of the skills Joseph learned in therapy.

In both physical and occupational therapies, Joseph focused on building his strength, endurance, balance and flexibility. They used hands-on techniques, including stretching exercises to improve Joseph’s contracted muscles, along with some of the latest technologies, to increase his skills. He worked with his physical therapists on mobility – progressing from a wheelchair to standing to taking his first few steps. In fact, he says that the turning point in his recovery was when his was able to stand up on his own.

Similarly, his occupational therapists providing the training and strategies to perform daily activities with increasing independence. Just being able to put on his own shoes was a major accomplishment.

“My team motivated me every day,” said Joseph. They constantly told me how good I was doing – and constantly told how much more I could do. That positive reinforcement really helped.”
Joseph admits it wasn’t always easy. “I really enjoyed all my therapy ... except when I would lay face down on the mat and try to turn over. It was hard, but I learned how to do it. And then there were the steps. From not being able to walk, I eventually managed to climb four-inch steps, and within days was able to do six-inch, then eight-inch steps. It was amazing.”

In preparation for a safe return home, Joseph, his wife and their three children participated in Kessler’s family training program. This gave them the tools they could use to further support Joseph’s recovery.

“Life-saving” is how Joseph described his rehabilitation experience. He added, “Everything was fantastic. The nurses, therapists, aides, housekeepers - everybody gives above and beyond. There’s a kind of family atmosphere here and the compassionate care I received really had an impact on me.”

Joseph planned to continue his recovery as an outpatient following his discharge on December 6 – and was looking forward to spending the holidays at home with his family and enjoying life’s many blessings.