A ‘Miracle’ In Tennessee: Charlene Caswell Transforms Herself From Quadriplegic to Hiker, With Help from The Hartford
Walking away from a seemingly permanent Disability requires tenacity, excellent care and a talented, committed insurance team
HARTFORD, Conn.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Charlene Caswell’s life changed abruptly on a snowy day last February after the truck in which she was riding flipped over, fracturing her Cervical spine and injuring her spinal cord. Initially she was unable to walk, hold up her head or move her arms. Her life changed again when Mrs. Caswell met Claims Handler Bonnie Foster and Nurse Case Manager Barbara Hess of The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. (NYSE: HIG), one of the nation’s leading providers of workers’ compensation insurance. The Hartford’s team helped her overcome the limitations usually associated with an initial diagnosis of Quadriplegia and find the strength and care she needed to recover.
Nearly 10 months later, after intensive therapies, Charlene Caswell is experiencing a kind of rebirth. She now walks around her home in Harriman, Tenn., exercises regularly and plans to return to her job as a quality assurance manager for Restoration Services, an environmental restoration business. And she can do what many people didn’t think would ever be possible: hike. Mrs. Caswell just recently purchased airline tickets and booked lodging for a hiking trip to Sedona, Ariz., in March.
“Prior to my accident, I was walking three or four miles, three to four times a week, and I’m well on my way back to that level. I’ve worked up from wheelchair to walker to crutches, and now I’m going to trade my cane for a hiking stick,” Mrs. Caswell said.
But she and her husband weren’t always that positive. The lowest point on the recovery journey followed Mrs. Caswell’s initial surgery to stabilize her neck, and the unsettling information she received from her physicians. One of the surgeons told the Caswells that doctors “don’t really understand how these things work,” while another doctor said they would know the extent of her recovery after the first three days.
That’s when The Hartford’s Nurse Case Manager Barbara Hess stepped up. “Barbara is extremely knowledgeable about spinal cord injury and when she saw me freaking out, she gave me an education and the hope we needed,” Mr. Caswell said. “Barbara disputed the ‘three-day recovery’ theory and told me what we should expect at every step. Barbara and (Hartford claims adjustor) Bonnie Foster would call me every three days initially, then once a week. They both understood that I have an important role in my wife’s recovery and that an important part of their role is to help me be strong.”
Hess, a registered nurse based in Charlotte with six years of claims experience at The Hartford and 36 years in nursing, understands the value of hope because she’s seen the alternative. “It’s so sad to see anyone get into a disability mode. It absolutely kills their soul,” Hess said.
The Hartford, which last year updated its strategy to better assist workers with spinal cord and acquired brain injuries, had identified the Shepherd Center in Atlanta as one of an elite group of Specialty Care Centers for treating spinal cord injuries. Foster, Hess and others on The Hartford Claims Team offered to transfer Charlene Caswell to that facility to provide the best opportunity for Mrs. Caswell’s Rehabilitation. Her doctors at Vanderbilt Hospital concurred and the plan to move her was put into action. Once at Shepherd, Charlene Caswell was accepted into “Locomotor Training,” an intensive, innovative activity-based rehabilitation therapy for patients with severe spinal cord injuries offered by the Christopher Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network (NRN). By repetitively stimulating the muscles and nerves in the lower body, dormant neural pathways awaken and retrain the neurons in the nervous system to essentially learn new functions.
To begin her recovery at Shepherd, Mrs. Caswell initially was suspended in a harness over a treadmill for an hour while specially trained therapists moved her legs to stimulate walking. At first the harness supported 75 percent of her weight, but by the end of 40 sessions that balance had shifted and the harness only supported 10 pounds of her weight. Each day after the treadmill session, the therapists would work with Caswell on Gait Training to improve walking movements, coordination and endurance. “We were probably pushing eight hours a days, including the five to six hours of structured Locomotor training, Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy,” Mrs. Caswell said. As her full partner in the recovery process, Peter Caswell took four months off from work to be by Charlene’s side as trainer and coach.
Treating a worker who suffers a spinal cord injury can typically cost anywhere from $500,000 to more than $1 million, according to Kelly McLaughlin, a workers’ compensation home office consultant. In workers’ compensation cases there is no deductible or co-pay, so the insurer or the company pays for the medical care, pharmaceuticals and for a significant portion of lost wages. Insurance companies traditionally create protocols for handling these major claims in an efficient and systematic way, but a prudent insurer also recognizes that cases sometimes require extra flexibility.
Certainly assisting in Mrs. Caswell’s recovery required The Hartford’s claims team to think out of the box. When the couple wanted to try weekend furloughs, Foster, who from the beginning had assured the couple of The Hartford’s commitment to help, arranged for the insurer to pay for the empty bed – something beyond the insurance industry’s usual practice. Foster also oversaw modifications to the Caswell home, which included replacing the couple’s large bathtub with a walk-in shower and paving a walking path so it would be easier to navigate.
The Caswells recognized that her treatment was extremely costly and were very careful how they spent the insurer’s money. When Foster suggested a stair lift to the second floor of the home to allow Mrs. Caswell to reach her bedroom, Mrs. Caswell rejected that, insisting that she would wait until she could walk upstairs. It didn’t take long.
Today, Mrs. Caswell’s walking is not as fast as her pre-accident pace and she will wear an ankle brace until her foot muscles are strong enough to support her. But her left side has almost returned to normal and she is now gaining the ability to flex her right hand into a fist. Her company is planning how it will modify her duties so she can return to work. Through it all there’s been one constant: The Hartford claims team.
“Bonnie and Barbara were the biggest part of the whole equation. I feel like we’ve been family,” Caswell said. “They were there from the start, and right away I knew I could trust their case management. They’ve never let us down.”
As one of the nation’s top five workers’ compensation insurers, The Hartford handles more than 150,000 new claims a year for workers injured on the job. The carrier combines staff expertise with sophisticated technology to route cases with severe injury to claims specialists trained to secure effective care for the worker. The Hartford also assists in helping the worker prepare to return to employment when appropriate, and teams up with doctors and employers to match a worker’s abilities with specific regular or modified jobs.
The Hartford, a Fortune 100 company, is one of the nation’s largest financial services and insurance companies, with 2005 revenues of $27.1 billion. The Hartford is a leading provider of investment products, life insurance and group benefits; automobile and homeowners products; and business property and casualty insurance. International operations are located in Japan, Brazil and the United Kingdom. The Hartford’s Internet address is www.thehartford.com.
Some of the statements in this release may be considered forward-looking statements as defined in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. We caution investors that these forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance, and actual results may differ materially. Investors should consider the important risks and uncertainties that may cause actual results to differ. These important risks and uncertainties include, without limitation, those discussed in our Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q, our 2005 Annual Report on Form 10-K and the other filings we make with the Securities and Exchange Commission. We assume no obligation to update this release, which speaks as of the date issued.
Caswell’s story recently appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America and in Prevention Magazine
Sue Honeyman, 860-547-4976
Debora Raymond, 860-547-9613