Rehab patients return to celebrate

People helped by Sutter Rehabilitation Institute in Roseville show off continued progress during reunion
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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When Teresa Hughes got the phone call that her husband suffered another accident at the sawmill where he worked, she figured it wasn’t serious. Tom Hughes had previously been banged up, bandaged and sent home from the emergency room on several occasions during the 20 years he worked at the sawmill. “I thought it was another one of those,” she said. But she soon came to understand that Tom had been seriously injured in an accident as he attempted to operate new machinery. The equipment smashed his head, busted his bottom jaw and ripped a chunk off the back of his head. The incident occurred nearly a year ago, on Oct. 14, 2009. The following months involved intensive rehabilitation to get Tom Hughes, now 52, back to good health. “This is an emotional time for us,” Teresa Hughes said Thursday. It was also a time for celebration, as the Sutter Rehabilitation Institute hosted its second-annual patient reunion for people who underwent treatment following strokes, trauma, brain injuries and other disabling conditions. Patients, including Tom Hughes, returned to show medical staff their continued progress. About 190 patients attended the Hawaiian luau-themed event. Dr. Karanjit Basrai, the institute’s associate medical director, joked that some of the therapists, nurses and doctors might forget the names of patients, who all wore blue leis, but for good reason. “It’s because you guys look different and you are doing so well,” Dr. Basrai said to the group. Former patient, Judy Crotsley, 36, attended the event with her two young children. On March 29, after playing at the park with her kids, she developed difficulty breathing. Her arms felt heavy, she said. The next morning, her legs felt shaky. A few hours later, she couldn’t move her legs. She went to urgent care, then an emergency room, followed by doctor appointments and testing. “They had no idea what I had because it’s so rare,” she said. Seven days later, doctors diagnosed Crotsley with transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder caused by an inflammation across the spinal chord that strikes victims fast. Only about 1,400 new cases are diagnosed annually in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health. Crotsley stayed at the institute for a week and half, working with a physical therapist to regain mobility in her legs and learn how to walk again. She said she’s now about 90 percent recovered. “They were a great support team,” Crotsley said. “They made it such a nice environment and everyone was upbeat, positive and truthful.” The Sutter Rehabilitation Institute at Sutter Roseville Medical Center is northern California’s first freestanding inpatient rehabilitation center specifically designed to help patients with brain and spinal cord injuries, stroke and neurological conditions, orthopedic complexities and trauma injuries. “Our goal is to return people to functional independence,” said Director Dr. Janice White. Sutter’s institute has an 82 percent return-to-home rate, while the national standard is 77 percent, she said. Patients who don’t return home after treatment require prolonged care and end up, for instance, in long-term acute hospitals. White said the institute has the same nursing ratio as a hospital and a physician visits daily to check on patients, who each undergo three hours of therapy a day. Patients stay in private rooms and the environment is less formal than hospitals. The 55,000-square-foot facility cost $80 million to build and currently has 40 beds, but expansion plans call for 55 beds by January 2011, White said. The institute received its first patient Dec. 8, 2008 and staff has treated more than 1,300 patients since then. After Tom Hughes’ accident, he spent a couple weeks in Sutter’s intensive care unit before transferring to the rehabilitation institute where he underwent therapy for a few more weeks. The Grass Valley resident still vividly remembers that fateful night when the accident happened last October. “It was so slow motion,” he said. “I could hear all the bones in my face crack. I was spitting out blood and gasping for air.” He recalls waking up inside an ambulance with an emergency-medical technician trying to push a breathing tube down his throat. “I remember asking, ‘Lord, what did I do?’” he said. He still has problems chewing food and sees a therapist to address the mental and emotional trauma of the accident but he no longer has nightmares and isn’t afraid of machines anymore. He returned to work in March. Thursday’s event was a chance to celebrate his recovery and thank the people who helped him along the way. “I think it’s been awesome,” Tom Hughes said. “The people here are caring, loving, giving and understanding. It’s (like) another family.” Sena Christian can be reached at