Rehab: Learning to Live Again

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK

    People who have had devastating brain injuries, like Gabrielle Giffords, say rehab is like learning to live again. For them it is learning a new "normal."

    San Diegan Roberto Nitschke is re-learning how to use his hands and arms at Sharp Rehabilitative Hospital in Kearny Mesa.

    Nitschke was paralyzed four months ago in a car crash.

    "On your mark, get set, go," says Nitschke's physical therapist as he starts a hand coordination drill. As part of his intensive, daylong sessions, Nitschke's therapists incorporate games and other activities as a way to help him re-learn the basics, like putting on his shoes.

    "I would think like, there's no way I'm going to be able to do this," Nitschke explained. "There's just no way. But then you come and address the problem like a week from then, and then suddenly you're doing it."

    Doctors say Gabrielle Giffords will face similar challenges, most likely she will have to re-learn how to speak, because the bullet that sliced through the left side of her brain, that often controls that function.

    "Recovery of speech can be a very tedious, long term process, sometimes in therapy for up to a year," said Dr. Jerome C. Stenehjem, medical director of Sharp Rehab Services.

    M.J. Walcher knows all about challenges, tedium, and frustration. She suffered a paralyzing stroke two years ago. It took three months of therapy to help her walk again.

    "You're starting at a very, very humble beginning and that can be extremely frustrating when you are used to doing that for yourself, doing it for others," Walcher said.

    Even with successes, patients are never the same. Brain-injured patients frequently talk about the "New Normal." Enjoying life, with limitations, M.J. Walcher is playing tennis again, but it's a different kind of game.

    "That's my new normal," Walcher said. "It's just a little bit slower, a little less graceful, but it's all good."

    "Hopefully, I can be as I was before," Nitschke explained. "But if not, you just have to readjust and be happy with what it's given back to you. It's a second chance. It's God giving you a second chance, so you have to be glad to what is given to you. And use what you have."