Physical therapy helps College Station woman regain use of arms

Shonnie Moore of College Station, paralyzed in a July 2005 traffic accident, has had to learn how to eat, bathe and live all over again through Physical Therapy. “They call it [becoming a quadriplegic] a new birth,” she said.

Julie Cernel of St. Joseph Rehabilitation Center in Bryan, who served as Moore’s physical therapist for 13 months, has improved her Functional mobility and strength through exercises and aquatic therapy.

One major achievement is Moore’s ability to transfer herself from her wheelchair to her bed. Physicians weren’t sure Moore could master that skill after sustaining a C-6, C-7 spinal cord injury when the 15-passenger van she was driving for Still Creek Ranch hydroplaned and rolled twice into a ditch off F.M. 2038.

Cernel addressed needs and goals, promoted independence and spent time educating Moore, 30, and her family. A special focus was helping Moore regain use of her arms.

Depending on a patient’s diagnosis, physical therapists perform an array of treatment methods and determine which suits their patient best. “There are not any cookbook methods to treatment,” Cernel said. “It was a combination of everything” for Moore.

Moore was unable to sit up straight for several months after her car accident because her blood pressure would fluctuate. Cernel worked at increasing her tolerance for sitting by using a Tilt Table.

“We did a lot of the same exercises over and over again,” Cernel said, because “repetition plays such a major role in a patient’s recovery.” From pushups on her stomach to trunk- and arm-strengthening exercises, Moore can now lift her arms slightly above her shoulders. While an Occupational Therapist focused on helping Moore with daily activities, Cernel focused more on wheelchair mobility.

Physical therapy provides health-care services to people of all ages with varied conditions, including orthopedic injuries, arthritis, low back pain, neurological disorders, cerebral palsy and strokes. The most common treatments include strengthening exercises, electrical stimulation and education. October is National Physical Therapy Month.

“Most physical therapy deals with the bones, muscles, and ligaments,” said physical therapist Gary Johnson of Brazos Valley P.T., a Bryan-based clinic providing outpatient services.

Physical therapists perform an array of tests to determine a person’s condition and get baseline readings. This initial evaluation must be performed by a licensed physical therapist, according to state law, and a physician must refer his or her patient to a therapist.

“Patients should consider what type of specialist could help their specific injury,” Johnson said. Otherwise, the most effective type of treatment might not be performed.

Physical therapists are required to be familiar with problems that can affect movement and health, so all physical therapists are college graduates. After receiving a bachelor’s degree, practitioners must attend physical therapy school, pass a national examination and be licensed by the state in which they practice. Physical therapists must complete 30 hours every two years at an accredited physical therapy school to maintain their license.

Patients such as Moore who are admitted to an acute-care facility usually begin some form of physical therapy as soon as possible.

“Recovery will be much quicker and more complete if treatment is given within one to two weeks of injury,” Johnson said.

Once these patients arrive at an in-patient facility – St. Joseph’s in Moore’s case – they undergo three hours of therapy each day, which includes Occupational Therapy, physical therapy and sometimes speech therapy. Most patients then will have either outpatient treatment two to three times a week or will be visited in their homes by a physical therapist who works with them throughout the week.

“As long as Moore continues to make improvements, physical therapy will continue,” Cernel said. Her physical therapist also will help her adapt to her handicap-accessible home, which she moved into during late August.

Moore recently began outpatient therapy at the Brazos Valley Rehabilitation Center in Bryan. Greg Burtin, whom Moore has known for a while through a church group, will be one of her primary therapists, Moore said.

Said Burtin: “Our main goal as a PT is to help patients get back to being functional [but] we must consider a patient’s faith and support system.”

Physical therapists agree that a mind-body integration that achieves an optimistic, can-do outlook benefits patients.

Patients who believe they will get better usually respond quicker, Cernel said. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those patients who have a positive attitude work harder than those who think negative.”

According to both Moore’s mother, Noralee Moore, and Cernel, Moore has remained upbeat and determined. “She kept yelling: This is not going to destroy me,” her mother said, “and kept everyone’s spirits up.”

Moore’s faith has sustained her throughout the difficult months after her injury. “God came to me in a dream,” she said, “and said I would walk again.”

She hopes to live on her own by this December and wants to learn to drive, use her new home for Bible studies and “get better with [her] wheelchair.”

Moore is thankful to those who pray for her, and each morning she, in turn, prays for them. She calls them her “unspoken heroes.”

Eagle Staff Writer

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