Starene (Star) Canady has always put others first. As a teacher’s aide, Star focused on helping her students with developmental disabilities live their lives to the fullest. Her own enjoyment of life, however, was limited by chronic neck pain. When conservative treatment didn’t help and impacted her ability to work, Star chose to undergo surgery. She initially felt some relief, but soon began to experience an increase in headaches and neck pain, decreased sensation in her arm and legs and difficulty walking.
Star returned to Jersey City Medical Center, where doctors found that two of the surgical screws in her neck had loosened and swelling had compressed her spinal cord causing pain and debility. Following a second surgery, Star chose Kessler Institute – Saddle Brook for her rehabilitation based on its reputation.
Upon admission, Star required assistance just to stand due to weakness and impaired balance. She had also developed foot drop, the inability to raise the front part of her foot, which makes walking more difficult and can be a risk for trips and falls. Additionally, Star had minimal awareness of where her feet were when she was walking, a condition known as a “proprioception disorder.” She said, “My feet felt numb, I couldn’t feel where they were with every step.”
Star also had great difficulty performing basic tasks, like writing or picking up small objects, and other daily living activities, such as dressing and grooming, due to decreased sensation and limited hand and arm function.
A physician-led team of rehabilitation nurses, physical and occupational therapists and other specialists implemented a care plan to enable Star to reach her goals of walking and regaining her independence. They sought to re-educate her nerves, rebuild muscle strength, restore her confidence and optimize her progress.
Working at least three hours a day with her physical and occupational therapists, Star benefitted from the advanced treatment, training and education provided. In occupational therapy, she concentrated on the improving her strength, range of motion and fine motor skills through a series of exercises.
To help her begin to walk safely, the team placed weights on each of Star’s ankles to increase her body’s awareness to the location and movement of her legs and placement of her feet when standing, then walking and eventually climbing stairs.
Star laughingly recalled the first time her physical therapist put the weights on her feet. “It seemed crazy, but it really helped me become aware of where my feet were. I have to say they knew what they were doing and continued to push me in the right way to do more.”
The exercises also helped to build muscle strength and stamina. The repetitive practice of walking with and without the extra weights helped Star find a natural gait rhythm with a rolling walker, ultimately without the need for any assistance.
Similarly, to combat her drop foot, the team employed a number of evidence-based techniques, including the use of resistive elastic bands around her legs and feet to retrain her body to increase the height of her steps and decrease her risk for tripping.
Star said a major turning point came when she finally completed “a flight of six -inch steps with three pound weights on each of my legs. I was in tears that I had regained the strength and the ability to safely get up and down the stairs - even when carrying six additional pounds!”
Supported by her friends and family members who participated in Kessler’s Care Partner training program, Star made great progress in a short period of time and was soon able to return home.
Reflecting on her rehabilitation journey, Star said, “The staff at Kessler are awesome people. They really care about YOU and helping you reach your goals. This whole experience renewed my faith and self-confidence ... and I’m ready to move on.”