At 51, Dan Lies lost everything. Now, 18 months later, he’s slowly winning his life back through hard work in Jamestown Regional Medical Center’s Rehab Department.
Stilled by a stroke
Dan has been active throughout his life. He and his family live on a farm 10 miles south of Jamestown, where he and his wife Nancy have raised four children — April, Robert, Erika and Bethany.
He spent 15 years at Weedbadger in Marion, N.D., ultimately as its shipping manager. “After he’d basically worn out both of his shoulders from lifting,” says Nancy, “he was ready for what he called his ‘pre-retirement job.’” He went to work as a clerk at Bottles and Jugs in Jamestown.
Then the unexpected happened: Dan had a stroke. Nancy, who was a corrections officer at the Correction Center, spent long days at his side. His medical team advised her to say goodbye to her husband. “He basically wasn’t with us,” she remembers. “He could breathe above the respirator just a little, but he wasn’t conscious.”
Father Peter Hughes gave him last rites during surgery. After ten days in the hospital, however, Dan still hung on. He was transferred to Triumph, an acute longterm hospital and had inpatient rehab therapy at Sanford. Finally he was moved to Ave Maria Nursing Home for three months.
“He received very good therapy there,” his wife notes. “But then the insurance company sent him home.”
“It’s been quite a battle.”
Challenge is emotional, too
When Dan was sent home, Nancy resigned from her job to care for him. “The struggle comes more from the emotional part than the physical. I wasn’t prepared for that,” she says. “I did not see the depression coming at all … but I found out very quickly how real it is for people who have had strokes.”
Nancy brings Dan to JRMC for outpatient therapy in the Rehab Department. “It’s been hit or miss, whether we get there or not because of his depression,” she concedes. “He has always been stubborn. With the depression, now it’s really bad.” A new piece of therapy equipment called an AlterG treadmill, however, has improved the situation. Nancy learned about it first from Tracy Anderson of JRMC’s Rehab Department, who worked with him at their farm for about a month.
“Tracy talked about how she thought it would help Dan,” Nancy says. “I did some research myself and agreed that it would be great.” The state’s first AlterG unit was in a Bismarck private practice; they drove back and forth for a time, but, she says, “It was just too much.”
Impressed by what they had seen, Nancy brought the idea of AlterG to Jan Barnes of JRMC Foundation. “We made a donation toward acquiring one. I wanted her to understand that I was truly interested in the machine,” she confides.
“And several months later the Foundation acquired one!”
AlterG is showing real results
Now Dan is getting the good cardiovascular workouts he needs without the risk of injury. AlterG supports much of his weight during his sessions, allowing him to increase his mobility and balance without worrying about devastating falls. The therapy has definitely helped with his walking. His wife, too, reports that he seems somewhat happier and more alert, taking more initiative in pursuing daily activities. Along with the new equipment, Nancy is quick to credit JRMC’s rehab staff with her husband’s improvement.
“Cody, his physical therapist, is exactly what Dan needs. I think the world of him,” she says. “I’m happy with the whole Rehab Department,” she adds. “Cassie, the receptionist, always greets him. Lonna in speech therapy has helped him, and Amy has gone above and beyond. She has even gone out to the car and encouraged him when he doesn’t want to come in. If we don’t come in for an appointment, they’re on the phone checking to see how things are going.”
The Lieses have been married 28 years. Their youngest daughter, Bethany, is still at home, attending school in Montpelier. April, Jamestown, is a sterilization tech at JRMC. Robert, a machinist, lives in Elk River, and Erika is attending college in Wahpeton to become an LPN.
It’s a long road back, but there are bright spots for Nancy along the way. “I love this place,” she says of JRMC. “I’m so happy we got the AlterG treadmill.”
New treadmill based on NASA technology for conditioning astronauts to exercise while weightless
The JRMC Rehab Department’s new AlterG antigravity treadmill shares something with WD-40, artificial hearts and cordless power tools: Its roots are deep in the American space program.
NASA was looking for ways to enable astronauts to exercise in space, where weightlessness works against the load-bearing effect of earth-bound running and walking. It was designed to add weight.
But back on Earth, the AlterG rehab treadmill has proven its worth in a completely opposite way. It lightens (or “unweights”) patients, carrying as much as 80 percent of their weight.
They step into an inflatable chamber that hugs them from the waist down. It enables them to run or walk freely on the treadmill without pain or concern about balance.
Its manufacturer notes that the experience is almost like walking on the moon. For someone with limited mobility in his lower body, or for whom pain limits the ability to walk, AlterG can be an ideal tool for getting back on his feet.
“With AlterG you get all the gain without the pain,” explains Steve Basta of the California company licensed to produce NASA’s patent.
JRMC Rehab Manager Tracy Anderson calls the antigravity treadmills “a breakthrough in enabling our rehabilitation patients to get back to their lives as quickly and effectively as possible.”
Foundation donors step up
She notes that JRMC’s AlterG treadmill — purchased by JRMC Foundation with more than $40,000 in donations from the community — is only the second of its kind in North Dakota. “We let our wonderful donors know what we needed, and they stepped forward,” says Foundation director Jan Barnes.
Installed in July, the treadmill has been a busy addition to the department. It is useful for rehab patients with a variety of conditions. In addition to rehabilitation of stroke patients like Dan Lies, it can be used for those recovering from lower body injuries from accidents and sports incidents.
Using AlterG may help rehabilitate those who have had hip and knee replacements. It can be used for neurologic reconditioning after brain injuries, as well as promoting strength and fitness among geriatric patients. The treadmill can also be used for athletic conditioning.
Jerry Fuchs’ knee is good as new after replacement
When Jerry Fuchs asked orthopedic surgeon Michael Dean, MD, about having his left knee replaced last June, the doctor knew what was on his mind. “Dr. Dean told me, ‘Well, pheasant season starts the beginning of October,’” Jerry recalls.
“I asked him whether I’d be able to hunt this fall, and he told me, ‘Absolutely!’” Jerry’s knee was replaced June 18 at JRMC. After five days in the hospital and several weeks of therapy in the Rehab Department, he has his full range of motion back — and is back to hunting and fishing. He’s even doing a little yard work.
“In all honesty, I would say that Dr. Dean and the nursing staff were great!” he emphasizes. “I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again, and I recommend them.” Jerry — who retired in January 2011 — went to therapy twice a week. He’s a big fan of JRMC’s new AlterG treadmill. “That thing is wonderful,” he reports. “It takes some of your weight off your legs and feet, and you can actually walk without hurting, building strength without the pain that goes with it.”
At his last session, therapist Cody measured his range of motion. “I can still see his face,” Jerry says. “It measured at 130 degrees, and I was back to 0 in straightening my knee. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Story originally published in the September edition of the AppleSeeds Newsletter.