The Long Walk to Recovery

Tara Ringer was getting worried. Very worried. Several hours ago on a rainy Saturday last May, her 25-year-old daughter Maura had called saying she was leaving her Brooklyn, New York, apartment to come home for an early Mother’s Day visit. When what should have been a two-and-a-half-hour drive stretched into three hours and still no daughter, Tara and her husband Jeff got that sinking feeling something wasn’t right. It just wasn’t like Maura not to call if she’d been delayed.

Tara usually didn’t like to call Maura when she was driving, but now Tara picked up her own cell phone and dialed her daughter’s number. “Somebody at the hospital answered the phone,” says Tara. “It was some man from Lehigh Valley Hospital Cedar Crest. The first thing out of my mouth was, ‘Is she alive?’ He said she was and was getting a CT scan. That was the worst call of my life.”

Not knowing anything more, Tara and Jeff rushed to the hospital from their Schnecksville home. “We saw her in the emergency room. She was white as a ghost, shaking and in shock,” says Tara.

Maura recalls little of the accident or the hours and days immediately following. “I remember the car kind of going out of control, I hydroplaned off the road and hit a tree,” says Maura. The next thing she remembers is waking up in the hospital’s intensive care unit 12 days later. “I was off in the abyss somewhere,” she says.

The litany of Maura’s injuries included 16 broken bones: her T1 vertebrae, left scapula, left wrist, eight ribs, and four breaks in her pelvis. She had a fracture in the back of her skull and a traumatic brain injury similar to Shaken Baby Syndrome where the brain sustains neurological damage from being shaken violently back and forth.

“She had several brain bleeds from the shaking,” says Tara. “It was like a concussion times 10 is how it was explained to us.”

In the hospital, Maura struggled with a blood clot and underwent surgery to repair her broken pelvis. She needed a neck brace and a catheter. Unable to eat, Maura was fed intravenously. Then there was the pain, so intense it made even sitting up in bed excruciating. But Maura’s strong body and spirit pulled her through. After two weeks Maura, who played competitive softball and field hockey in high school, and frisbee in college, was ready for inpatient rehabilitation.

“We were offered two choices,” says Tara. “I had heard good things about Good Shepherd from everybody who goes there and that they work wonders.”

On May 25, Maura was transferred to Good Shepherd’s brain injury unit in Allentown.

“When I arrived I was scared, in severe pain and just beginning the most physically and mentally challenging time of my life,” says Maura. “Prior to arriving at Good Shepherd, I had only sat up several times in the hospital and that required a lot of help. The friendliness and supportiveness of the doctors, therapists, nurses, and staff meant the world to me. They helped me regain my control over my own body through physical therapy and regain my independence by teaching me to perform daily tasks through occupational therapy.”

Tara and Jeff are grateful for the way Good Shepherd involved them in their daughter’s recovery. “They realized we were very involved parents,” says Tara, “and they welcomed us into all the different disciplines for all the different therapies, so we kind of learned along with Maura.”

Maura quickly regained all of her cognitive abilities with only minor vision problems. Now came the hard work of physical and occupational therapy. After almost a month as an inpatient, Maura could transfer herself in and out of her wheelchair, and dress and bathe herself with little to no assistance.

On June 23, Maura returned to her parents’ home. She then began therapy at Good Shepherd Physical Therapy – Schnecksville.

“When she started with us, Maura was still in a wheelchair with significant weight-bearing restrictions, and wearing a hard cervical collar along with a wrist brace,” says Jennifer West, physical therapist. “Sessions were restricted to mat exercises.”

But Maura’s motivational spirit and work ethic propelled her forward, and once rid of the collar and neck brace, her progress took off, says Jennifer.

One of Maura’s biggest challenges was building both her confidence and strength to put her full weight on her right leg. Jennifer and the Schnecksville therapy team focused on helping Maura achieve that goal which they knew would be significant for Maura’s recovery. “Maura and her mother were apprehensive, as expected, once Maura was allowed to bear more weight through her legs with walking” says Jennifer.

“Prior to this Maura was only taking a few steps with her walker to transfer. A huge difference was seen in Maura once she was able to walk more and then was educated on stair negotiation. She was able to get to her parents’ second floor where now she can sleep.”

This was another victory for Maura. “It was at this point that things really turned around,” says Jennifer. “The ability to gain more independence was very important to Maura’s motivation and success. You could see it in her face.”

Jennifer recalls the day she saw Maura get out of the car and walk into the clinic on her own without any assistive device. “That was a first, and she looked great,” says Jennifer. “It is moments like those that make you really appreciate and love being a therapist.”

Maura has cut back from three to two weekly sessions of physical therapy and continues to improve her balance, strength and stamina. She hopes to be able to drive again and return by the end of the year to her job as an industrial engineer in New York City.

Walking has become a favorite pastime for Maura who enjoys evening walks with her father. In October Maura participated in the Sprint, Stroll & Roll to Recovery walk to raise funds for The Brain Injury Association and Good Shepherd. Maura also has started going to Good Shepherd’s Vision Therapy Program to address the lingering effects of the accident that affected her peripheral vision.

“My experiences at both Good Shepherd locations has been truly transformative,” says Maura. “Being more mobile and capable of caring for myself boosted my spirits immensely and set the stage for my continued success with physical therapy. I am very grateful that I was afforded the opportunity to work with such a great organization and wonderful people.”

Maura’s parents are equally enthusiastic about the care their daughter has received. “Good Shepherd is absolutely fabulous,” says Tara. “I highly recommend it to everyone I speak to. I tell them there’s no place else anybody should ever go for rehabilitation.”

Photo: Physical Therapist Jennifer West with Maura Ringer.