Najee's story

Najee sitting with a mask on while petting a therapy dog.

It was a typical night for 27-year-old Najee Mohamed — relaxing and scrolling through his cellphone — until he woke up in the hospital with his life turned upside down.

“I was in bed. I don’t remember anything else,” he recalled. Luckily, his mom noticed he was unconscious and his family rushed him to the emergency room at St. Joseph’s University Medical Center.

Their quick action proved more critical than they could have known. Najee was transferred to the neurological intensive care unit at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center where he underwent extensive testing that included an MRI, electroencephalogram and a spinal tap. The Armed Services member was diagnosed with autoimmune encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain caused by the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking healthy brain cells and tissues.

He was treated with immunotherapies including intravenous immunoglobulins and plasma exchange to stop his body from attacking itself. However, once stabilized, he was unable to speak, had difficulty with memory and cognition and was unable to move or walk on his own due to paralysis. “I couldn’t talk, move or walk. I was very confused,” he remembered.

After nearly two months in the hospital, Najee and his family chose Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation – Saddle Brook to continue his recovery with specialized neuro-rehabilitation. This Kessler program provided a comprehensive approach to treatment tailored to individual needs and goals.

His physician-led team of rehabilitation nurses, physical and occupational therapists, speech pathologists and other specialists mobilized to address his goals upon admission. Najee wanted to “walk and talk” again.

Working closely with his physical therapists, Najee steadily improved his strength, balance and mobility through a range of hands-on therapies and exercises that included walking on a body-weight supported treadmill, high-intensity gait training and dynamic balance activities. He also improved his endurance and coordination through stair exercises. A big milestone for Najee came “when I first started walking … I have videos so I can remember.”

Similarly, through occupational therapy, he developed the skills and strategies to be independent in his daily activities, such as grooming and dressing, as well as transfers that allowed him to get in and out of bed. His therapists integrated his hobbies and interests into his program with a Nintendo Wii and soccer. His family took note of everything he did. They were all there for support and took part in family training sessions to gain an understanding of how to manage his everyday activities with comfort and confidence.

An “ah-ha moment” for Najee was “when I first started speaking. Before that, I was mumbling.” His speech therapists targeted his communication and cognitive deficits with exercises and games, increasing his ability to speak clearly and gather his thoughts.

His favorite therapy sessions involved working with Kessler’s specially trained Canine Companions for Independence. The therapy dogs helped lift Najee’s spirit and provided assistance with walking and other physical tasks.

After nearly two months at Kessler, he was walking with supervision-level assistance and speaking more clearly. He planned to build on his tremendous progress through Kessler outpatient therapy and was looking forward to “just being home.”

Overall, he gave his Kessler experience “two thumbs up. Everyone here is very nice.”