‘There’s Hope’: Patient Recovers from COVID-19 to Dance Again

July 06, 2020

Arlene Dalessio

The high fever started soon after Arlene Dalessio returned home from a vacation cruise. It was early March 2020, and COVID-19 infections were climbing in New York City, where her cruise ship docked.

For days, the fever persisted. Then, the 74-year-old suburban Philadelphia grandmother of 10 experienced trouble breathing while talking on the phone. Her family grew increasingly worried it was the coronavirus. When her condition continued getting worse, Arlene’s daughter drove her to a local emergency room.

Little did they know it would be more than a month before Arlene would leave intensive care.

“That was it for five weeks,” Arlene says, noting she was in a semi-induced coma, intubated for 16 days of her stay and heavily medicated. “I was in the hospital, and I remember nothing.”

When Arlene came to after those five difficult weeks, she needed to transition to the next step of COVID-19 recovery. With her mom unable to remember anything and still unaware she even contracted the virus in the first place, Arlene’s daughter researched options — and helped choose Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital as Arlene’s inpatient rehabilitation provider.

COVID-19 Rehab Unit Builds Her Back Up

As soon as she was admitted to Good Shepherd, Arlene began her rehabilitation on the hospital’s dedicated COVID-19 rehab unit. Arlene told her care team her goal was to dance again. But before she could achieve that, she had to relearn everything. The grueling battle with COVID-19 left Arlene’s legs and upper body weak. She couldn’t walk or feed herself, let alone dance.

Despite her physical condition, Arlene’s team of physicians, nurses and therapists remained steadfast, outlining a recovery path. Arlene eagerly embraced it because she wanted to get up, move and improve.

“Once I realized I need this, I told myself, ‘I’m doing it. We’re doing it. I don’t care how difficult it is,’ ” Arlene says. “Good Shepherd’s inpatient rehabilitation was intense and difficult, but it worked.”

Arlene entered the Rehabilitation Hospital in a wheelchair, barely knowing where she was. A few weeks later, she left the Rehabilitation Hospital able to walk and primed for her next challenge.

“Thank God that Good Shepherd took me,” Arlene says through tears.

Shift to Outpatient Telehealth Therapy

Having grown stronger and ready for outpatient therapy, Arlene was discharged from Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital. She went home and immediately started outpatient physical therapy and occupational therapy with Good Shepherd.

Hesitant to leave home because of the virus, Arlene chose telehealth appointments with her Allentown-based team. Logging into virtual visits, Arlene continues to improve her endurance, stamina, balance and strength, all while reducing the shortness of breath COVID-19 brought on.

“It’s wonderful,” she says of telehealth therapy. “I can do it right in my house — and it works.”

One of the reasons Arlene says she enjoys the telehealth option is how it keeps her accountable. On therapy days, she logs into the virtual appointment and stays on task. Plus, she likes talking with her care team, sharing any aches or issues she encounters.

‘There’s Hope’

Through her determination and commitment to get better, the mother of three grown children now walks unassisted in her condo, washes clothes, vacuums, cooks and manages her bills — all the everyday tasks she was unsure she’d ever be able to do on her own again.

The best part of recovery, according to Arlene? She’s officially able to dance again — especially to Maroon 5, her favorite band.

“I’m back,” she says.

For anyone undergoing rehabilitation from the devastating physical impacts of COVID-19, Arlene has a simple message.

“There’s hope,” she says.