On a lovely afternoon in October 2018, Patricia Hutchison (Pat) was out front along her drive trimming her lilac bushes.
Pat lost her balance and fell and hit her neck on the curb. The fall resulted in fracturing her back in three places. She lay on the ground calling for help.
A dog noticed Pat’s distress as its owner drove by and alerted the owner to the situation. The owner called 911, and Pat was taken to the hospital.
Pat was hospitalized for several days, and it was determined that she would have to remain in a hard collar and was not a good candidate for surgery to repair her broken neck and spine. She started having more pain and limited walking ability due to the injury. She went into a skilled nursing and rehab center from January 2019 – April 2020.
In addition to the complications from the fall, Pat already had weakness on her left side from a stroke she suffered in 2017. She had also had to learn to live with a left-sided below-the-knee amputation due to bone disease. The rehab center helped, and Pat was able to return home.
In June 2020, Pat started falling – six times in one week. She went to her spinal surgeon, Stephen Beer, and he identified swelling around where she had her fractures. Dr. Beer sent her to Utah because a surgeon there thought they could do a surgery for her fractures and swelling.
Unfortunately, the surgeon in Utah determined that he could not perform the surgery because it was too risky. Pat was then sent to Evanston, Wyoming, for further rehab care.
Pat was in a rehab center in Evanston for about a month and returned home, where she was able to walk again, and was at home until September 2020, when she started developing paralysis in her arms.
After a hospital stay, Pat came to Life Care Center of Cheyenne. At first, she was not able to feed herself or even push a call light. She had to use a specialized call light that she could blow into. Within just a few weeks of her admission, she contracted COVID-19 during an outbreak in the building. She was transferred to the COVID unit for several weeks.
According to Pat, the symptoms she endured only compounded the issues she was already having. It was a scary time, and COVID made her feel like not doing anything.
After a few weeks in quarantine and recovery from the virus, Pat was able to return to the rehab unit.
Meanwhile, Dr. Beer was determined to find a physician who would take on the type of surgery she required to free her nerves and reduce the inflammation in her spine. He finally was able to connect with Dr. Peter Lennarson in Denver.
Pat was willing to have surgery and asked to have it sooner rather than later.
On Dec. 11, Pat headed to Denver with hope of using her arms again. She first had to have a preliminary surgery that removed lead wires left in her back from a spinal stimulator. On Dec. 16, she had a four-hour surgery to rebuild her neck. It took more than 12 hours, however, for her to come out of the anesthesia. She spent five days in ICU.
In ICU, Pat remembers starting to feel some tingling in her arms, like when a person’s foot falls asleep and starts to wake up. The doctor said those were the nerves starting to wake up again. Before she left Denver on Dec. 23, she was able to raise her right arm halfway up. Dr. Lennarson said the surgery was a success but warned her he didn’t think she’d be able to walk again, although he anticipated more use of her arms.
The movement in her arms “was the best Christmas present I’ve ever had,” said Pat.
Pat was determined to work hard in therapy at Life Care Center of Cheyenne with her physical therapist, Gretchen Greer, and occupational therapist, Tracy Whittaker.
“I wanted to be able to feed myself,” Pat said.
There were days that rehabilitation was difficult, but she kept working hard.
This year, 2021, has been good to Pat. In January, she got to try a soft collar on her neck. Within a few weeks, she was able to go collar-free. Pat described that it felt like her head was 10 times the size of her body, and it hurt to use her neck again to hold her head up again on her own strength.
More and more feeling started coming back in Pat’s arms, and she was able to work with physical therapy to strengthen her arms. Occupational therapy started to help her with the more strategic use of her arms for activities of daily living, especially feeding herself.
Pat also started to transfer, getting out of bed into a wheelchair or from a wheelchair to a regular chair, and she started to build confidence. When she was able transfer from her bed to the chair in February, she told Gretchen, “I think I want to try and walk.”
“I will never forget seeing Pat in the hallway standing in a walker,” said Caroline Veit, community relations director.
Caroline had helped Pat in the beginning of her stay and had been devastated when Pat had contracted COVID.
“She had so many things working against her,” said Caroline. “She did not need or deserve a virus from a global pandemic on top of all she was fighting. It was an absolute miracle to see Pat, the person I had hand-fed bite by bite back in September 2020, when she could not move any part of her body, standing in front of me five months later.”
Pat credits her doctors and therapists for her success and recovery. She is grateful for all the loving care she has been shown at Life Care Center of Cheyenne.
“Miracles happen here,” Pat said.
After such a long road, Pat returned home on March 28.
“We all celebrate Pat’s hard work, strength and amazing recovery with her and wish her the very best as she returns home,” said Caroline.