Born and raised in Denton, Texas, 54-year old Rhonda King lives with Barry, her husband of 24 years. Rhonda loves spending quality time with her family, including two of her children and five grandchildren who live nearby. “My grandkids are my life. It’s my job to spoil them,” said Rhonda. She helps care for her grandchildren and takes them on regular picnics as well as trips to the zoo, amusement and water parks.
Rhonda worked as a firefighter and paramedic for several years, but was forced to retire after chronic lower back pain led to multiple surgeries. She had her first back surgery 15 years ago but suffered complications that led to hardware failure. Rhonda was in extreme pain and physicians prescribed her high doses of pain medication, gradually requiring increasingly higher doses to provide any degree of relief.
After nine back surgeries, Rhonda’s constant pain had started to seriously affect her quality of life as she was unable to participate in the activities that she most enjoyed. “I didn’t want to settle for a life where I just watched,” Rhonda said. “I wanted to move and function and take care of grandkids.” Rhonda decided to take the drastic step of having spinal fusion surgery, which fused the vertebrae of her lower back from L1 to L5.
Following her surgery, Rhonda could barely walk. Initially, she planned to recover with her daughter-in-law’s help, but it was determined that Rhonda would have better outcomes if she went to an inpatient rehabilitation hospital where she could receive more intensive therapy.
When she arrived at Select Rehabilitation Hospital of Denton, Rhonda said, “I didn’t even know how to dress myself or get out of bed.” Years of taking high doses of pain medication had built up her tolerance making it difficult to manage her pain post-surgery. Rhonda was in so much pain during her recovery that it was hard for her family to see her in that state.
Although struggling, Rhonda says that she was motivated to fight for her quality of life. Her goals upon arrival were straightforward, but not easy to achieve. She wanted to go home and be able to take care of herself. Her physician-led team of physical and occupational therapists devised a plan to help her get there.
In physical therapy, Rhonda and her therapists worked on improving her mobility, strength and endurance. She began walking slowly with the assistance of a rolling walker and support of therapists. Getting strong enough to go up and down stairs was an important milestone for Rhonda as she has stairs to get into her house and up to her bedroom. Rhonda said she was “so proud” of herself the day she was finally able to navigate stairs on her own under the watchful eye of her therapists.
Rhonda’s occupational therapists provided education about the necessary precautions she needed to take due to her spinal surgery. They also guided her on ways to help manage personal care, including dressing and grooming. Rhonda recalls everyone on her care team was consistent and let her know what to expect during her rehabilitation. “I appreciate the respect that I received from the staff during a vulnerable time,” she added.
Soon, Rhonda was ready to return home with plans to continue therapy with home health care. After a few home visits, Rhonda decided that she would benefit from more aggressive physical therapy at Select Rehabilitation Hospital of Denton’s outpatient center. When Rhonda first started outpatient physical therapy, she was using a rolling walker. The early days of her outpatient therapy experience placed an emphasis on pain control techniques and home management of symptoms. “I really appreciated the education and I gained the tools to manage my pain at home on my crisis days without having to resort to pain medication,” she stated. Rhonda worked hard in outpatient therapy and was able to progress to using a cane. Several weeks later, she was walking independently. With her strength and endurance better than it has been in years, Rhonda’s sessions now focus more on strengthening and conditioning so she can be an active participant in her life.
Rhonda’s back issues and surgeries have required her to turn to therapy many times over the years, but she says that her experience at Select Rehabilitation Hospital of Denton was the best that she has had, saying, “It was incredible and gave me back more freedom than I’ve had in a long time. I learned more here and have accomplished more because of the care I received.”
Rhonda has met her goals of returning home, regaining independence and helping to care for her grandchildren, cherishing their time together.