“Physically, I am having difficulties with balance and falling, and a lot of pain in my legs,” said Tom Conforti, of Kenosha, a husband and father of four who had a successful career in the insurance industry. “Mentally, I sometimes struggle to remember things or find the words to express myself.”
“I had a very, very good life,” recalled Rick Madeja, of Pleasant Prairie. The husband and father of three who was a successful salesperson for an event rental business, and a professional bass fisherman in his spare time. Then two summers ago, everything changed.
“I thought I was a goner, that I was headed to that great beyond,” recalled Bill Hans, also of Pleasant Prairie. “I felt like I was walking towards a doorway when I heard a woman’s voice say, ‘Hello. I heard that you are in some trouble.’ I told her, ‘I knew you were coming,’ because I thought she was the person you meet on the way to heaven,” Bill said. “Then everything started coming back into focus and the room started changing back to the real colors, and that’s when I realized I was talking with someone from the hospital’s spiritual care department, not an angel.”
These three people – all of them from our Kenosha County community – suffered dramatic, unexpected, and life-altering changes to their health. And all three are benefiting to this day from the only neurological rehabilitation program in the area at Froedtert South.
“All my therapy in the same place”
In 2010, Tom Conforti was just forty-four when he got the diagnosis: Parkinson’s disease – a progressive brain disorder. There is not yet a cure, but there are ways to slow the progression. “My neurologist said it’s important to stay active,” Tom said.
The Neurologic Rehabilitation Clinic at Froedtert South is where Tom does that.
“We have two board certified neurological clinical specialists on staff who have taken special courses and worked extensively with neurological patients to achieve that certification,” said Tami Carr, Director of Rehabilitation Services at Froedtert South.
One of those specialists is Physical Therapist Ceilia Boyce. “We help patients with Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries, or brain tumors, as well as patients who have suffered a stroke, a concussion, or a spinal cord injury,” Ceilia said. “We now have all three therapy disciplines – occupational, physical, and speech therapy – all in one clinic,” Tami said. “Increasingly, patients who may have received their initial care somewhere else are coming to us for rehab because we are convenient, and because people know they will receive exceptional care here that they can’t receive anywhere else in the community,” Ceilia said.
“My therapy program at Froedtert South is intended to make things a little bit easier for me,” Tom said. “It’s great having all my therapy at the same place that is less than two miles from my house. The therapists are all very good people, very caring,” Tom said. “They challenge me, but not more than I can handle. Everyone is genuinely concerned about me and what I am going through.”
“With patients who have a progressive disease such as Parkinson’s, we are also doing a lot of education with their caregiver or family member on how to help manage, how to help care, how to help implement what we are training and doing,” Ceilia said.
“Ease of scheduling is another big benefit,” Tami said. “Many patients require family to get them to and from a therapy appointment. Having all the services they need in one place makes a big difference for a lot of these patients and their families.”
“It’s the best thing anyone can do to help deal with Parkinson’s,” Tom said.
“Someday, I will be able to stand and walk”
“My wife and I were boating on an area lake when I dove into the water,” Rick Madeja said. “Immediately after entering the water, I realized I could not feel anything from my armpits down.”
Rick later learned that he had a bone spur on his spine that pointed toward his spinal column. “When I dove in, the water shoved my head back and pushed that spur into my spinal cord.”
“My wife was able to throw a flotation device to me and then jumped into the water to help me get to shore. Some people in a house right there saw the whole thing happen and called 911,” Rick said, “so an ambulance was waiting when I got to the pier. At the hospital, I had emergency surgery to prevent further damage.”
“I did in-patient rehab in Milwaukee at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin, but because we live in Pleasant Prairie, I started doing neuro rehab therapy at Froedtert South,” Rick said.
“Driving forty-five minutes to an hour to get neurological rehab when you have had a stroke or a spinal cord injury, or you have a progressive neurological disease, that can be a lot of unnecessary time and effort that we eliminate,” Tami said.
“We help patients become stable enough to be able to safely maneuver around their home and community, and achieve their goals, whether those are related to their work, family, everyday life, or even sports,” Ceilia said.
“We work to help them take pride in being able to keep doing the things they like to do, even if they are doing them in a different way.”
“They are helping me rebuild my strength and confidence, and I am definitely getting better,” Rick said. “In the last six months, I have been able to flex some of the muscles in my back. I am gaining more and more movements and control, and I am getting more feeling all the way down to my toes now. With the feeling I am getting back, I am working to strengthen my legs, so someday I will be able to stand and walk,” Rick said.
“Everyone at Froedtert South is very personable and very interested in what’s going on with me,” Rick said. “I was accepted into a day program at the world-renowned Shirley Ryan rehab clinic in Chicago, but the therapists at Froedtert South are much better.”
“They are why I am where I am today”
Bill Hans was hospitalized after suffering a significant stroke that left him relying on a walker to get around, unable to work, and in need of around-the-clock supervision. After several weeks in the hospital and a rehabilitation facility, Bill began therapy sessions with the neuro rehab specialists at Froedtert South.
“We have regular team meetings to talk about patients like Bill - their plan of care, how they are progressing, and how other therapies might contribute to their care,” Ceilia said. “That collaborative approach helps patients meet their goals and get them where we want to be.”
“The Froedtert South neuro rehab clinic is very near my house,” Bill said. “I love having all my therapy in the same place. They schedule back-to-back sessions for me, which was especially helpful when I was having to take a ride service to and from the clinic.”
“I have three wonderful therapists, just fantastic,” Bill said. “I consider them to be my best friends. They have really helped me get better. I am walking, though I have to sit down every so often because my ankles will be sore and my legs will get tired.”
“I am also back to driving, now, with no restrictions. That is important to me, because I own antique cars and take part in road rallies three times a year,” Bill said. “Many of our patients want to get back to driving after their recovery,” Ceilia said. “Primarily, our occupational therapists help them with that here, but they also involve our colleagues at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee who are able to perform an actual behind-the-wheel driving assessment.”
“The neuro rehab therapists at Froedtert South are all incredible and friendly people. Everyone, top to bottom, is so professional. It’s a fantastic organization,” Bill said. “They are why I am where I am today.”
“Bill has learned how to manage and still participate in all the fun activities and things that he wants to do,” Ceilia said. “Virtually everyone on our staff worked with him, so seeing his progress makes everyone here feel really good.”
“Other therapists on our team are interested in pursuing neuro rehab certification as well, helping us expand to meet the growing need for the services we are now providing to the community,” Tami said. “And we are constantly growing our knowledge base to help provide patients with the newest and best care possible.”