Methodist Physical Therapy Helps Woman Regain Independence After ‘Life-Changing’ Leg InjuryPublished: Oct. 31, 2022
Methodist Physicians Clinic physical therapist Amanda Held, left, and physical therapist assistant Abby Emken.
For retiree Nancy Kracher, spending time with her 7-year-old granddaughter means everything.
The two love to draw, play games, shop and visit Lauritzen Gardens and the Omaha Children’s Museum. They had plans for a day at the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium this summer, but one literal false step in May put everything on hold for Nancy.
Nancy, of Omaha, had been on a stepstool and was getting a tote off a closet shelf when she missed a step.
“It happened so fast,” she said. “I was coming down the steps, and then I was on the ground. I crawled to where my phone was and called my daughter. She and her husband came, and I tried to get up but couldn’t. I knew something was wrong with that leg.”
Nancy was taken to Methodist Women’s Hospital, where an X-ray and MRI revealed a fracture to her left tibia, just below the knee. The next day she was admitted to Methodist Hospital, where she learned she wouldn’t need surgery but months of rehabilitation.
“It was life-changing, because I went from doing everything I wanted to do to not being able to do anything,” she said. “I was wondering, ‘Will I ever get back to any kind of life I had?’”
After four days at Methodist Hospital, Nancy was transferred to a post-acute rehab facility in Omaha. With her left leg in an immobilizing brace, she practiced using a walker and worked on balance and maintaining strength in her right leg for five weeks. She then moved in with her daughter, and her recovery entered a new phase: physical therapy at Methodist Physicians Clinic.
Nancy was paired with physical therapist Amanda Held, PT, DPT, and physical therapist assistant Abby Emken, PTA, in late June. The plan now included bending her left knee to improve her range of motion, then easing into weight-bearing exercises with her leg. For Nancy, who hadn’t moved her left leg in weeks, doubt began to creep in.
“When I went in the first time, I was kind of leery when I hadn’t stood on it for so long,” she said. “Not knowing how it would work gave me pause. It was scary, but they were so good at explaining what was going to happen, and that put me at ease. They both had a way about them to reassure me that it’d be OK. And it was.”
Held remembers Nancy’s initial hesitation, too.
“At the very beginning, she would say, ‘You probably think I’m crazy, but I just don’t feel like I’m ready to do that,’” Held said. “I think so much of what we do is teaching patients about the healing process. Teaching them about what their body can do and how the body is able to heal. For Nancy, there was a lot of education about what’s happening and why weight bearing was safe. Educating her on what’s going on with her body instilled a lot of confidence in her to take the next step in her recovery.”
Emken added: “We always talked about celebrating the small victories. Especially early on, when she didn’t feel like she could take the first couple steps with a walker. Or when she’d come up the elevator in a wheelchair, we’d talk about trying to take the walker up to the third floor next time instead of the wheelchair. I think a big part of it was letting her know that we were confident in her.”
Building on “Small Victories”
As Nancy bought into the therapy plan – including stretches and strengthening exercises at home – the “small victories” were getting bigger and more exciting.
Nancy moved back home in July after three weeks with her daughter. She shed her knee immobilizer by the end of that month and now wears a supportive brace. In August, she graduated from using a walker to a cane.
Held said she’ll never forget when Nancy drove herself to the clinic for the first time in August, waved her purse and keys, and said, “Guess what. I drove today!”
“Everything for her was such a celebration,” Held said. “Even if it was as simple as driving to therapy. That was a fun memory. She had her purse, her cane and independence written all over her face.”
Beyond her physical recovery, Nancy said she treasures the relationships she’s built with Held, Emken and the reception desk staff. Together, she said, they create “an inviting and uplifting atmosphere.”
That’s just as important to a patient’s care as exercises and therapy plans, Emken said.
“I think it’s really important when you’re working with a patient that you treat them beyond their injury,” she said. “Not every day is going to be a good one, so it’s important to ask how they’re doing with their injury and otherwise. I think that builds a lot more trust with the patient. Them knowing that you care about them is so crucial to their recovery.”
Looking to the Future
Nancy’s appointments with Held and Emken are likely winding down. She has one more visit scheduled for mid-November, and if all goes well, she’ll be allowed to continue her recovery solely at home.
Meanwhile, she plans to enjoy the independence she regained this summer and fall – doing her own shopping, picking up her granddaughter up from school and taking her to dance class. And as she gains more strength and mobility, she’s thinking even bigger.
“What I would love to be able to do is go with my granddaughter to Disney World,” she said.
It’s a goal that seemed impossible five months ago, but Held and Emken are proud to have helped make it possible.
“It’s pretty gratifying to hear those types of success stories,” Emken said. “Our whole team works together to get people back to where they want to be, and to play a part in that is pretty darn cool.”
“That’s the reason, you know?” Held said. “People want to get back to their homes and the things they want to do, and they’re relying on me to help them do that. I guess that just instills in me the reason I started this profession and why I love my job.”