Tom's story

Tom Wolfinger standing in a hospital common area with a mask on holding a fishing pole he used in his occupational therapy.

The only thing Thomas ‘Tom’ Wolfinger enjoys more than fishing is spending time with his family. Little did he know how valuable that time would become when the 53-year-old went into cardiac arrest.

His family immediately called 911 and EMTs revived and intubated him.

Tom underwent extensive testing at Virtua Willingboro Hospital where he was diagnosed with a bilateral pulmonary embolism. A blood clot had blocked an artery on both sides of his lungs. On top of that, he tested positive for COVID-19 which impeded his ability to think clearly, express himself and move around -- he was unable to stand or walk on his own. Over the next few weeks, his hospital care team worked to stabilize Tom.

Once stabilized, the medical team recommended inpatient rehabilitation. Tom and his family chose Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation – Marlton. Upon arrival, a physician-led team of nurses, physical and occupational therapists, speech pathologists and other specialists established a treatment plan tailored to his needs.

In physical therapy, Tom focused on building his balance, strength and endurance. He improved his mobility with a range of exercises -- squats, stair climbing, fall recovery training and stretching. When asked how many steps he climbed, Tom said, “as many as the therapist tells me to do.” As his strength returned, Tom progressed to walking over 400 feet with a walker. His therapist was impressed, sharing that “he even started to practice walking without the walker.” Tom recalled one of his best days, “My girlfriend got to visit with me for the first time…it felt good to see her reaction to me walking.”

Tom was uplifted by one of the exercises occupational therapy developed – he used a fishing pole to retrieve the cardboard fish from a container. He started slow, performing this exercise sitting down and progressed to a standing position with the help of a walker.

Speech therapists also worked with Tom, providing strategies to increase the rate and volume of his speech. They said Tom is now able to communicate more clearly and be understood by people who know him and people who don’t. This was especially important for the encouraging phone calls Tom received from his daughter, son, and his 5-year-old granddaughter. He was able to understand and respond to them which filled him with joy and determination.

Individual and group therapy were also cognitively beneficial helping Tom recall details of the day and handle problem-solving. Slowly he improved his ability to think more clearly and grasp information more quickly.

Tom’s therapist attributes his success to hard work, determination and positivity. “Tom has worked incredibly hard to achieve his goals…He is the type of patient who has given us his trust since day one and consistently gives 100% effort every session,” his therapist said.

“I learned I can still do it, and that I have the drive to get myself well,” said Tom.

Tom was discharged after a month at Kessler Institute and is continuing his recovery with a home therapy program. He was looking forward to returning home and resuming normal family activities that he will never take for granted, fishing, shopping, and mostly “cooking a steak dinner for me and my girlfriend.”