James' story

patient success stories - medically complex - James Summers

At 2 a.m., 36-year-old James Summers woke up to what felt like a “pop” in his abdomen, followed by searing pain. His mother drove him to the emergency room, where scans revealed a perforated colon. Transferred to UPMC Pinnacle Harrisburg, James underwent several surgeries to repair the damage.

After two weeks, he no longer needed life-saving intervention, but wasn’t well enough to return home. Doctors recommended Select Specialty Hospital – Harrisburg.

When James arrived, he required nasal oxygen, several pressurized wound dressings and intravenous antibiotics to fight infection. Unable to move easily, James needed a lift to get him into a wheelchair.

Before getting sick, James worked full-time on an IT help desk. He loved reading and, as an avid movie buff, made weekly trips to theaters showing the newest blockbuster. Now he worried if he’d be able to care for himself and walk again.

A physician-led team of nurses, therapists and pharmacists created a plan to help James get back to an independent life.

Respiratory therapists worked with pulmonologists to manage James’ oxygen levels and ease fluid build-up in his lungs. They introduced breathing and chest exercises to enhance his stamina. Over time, he progressed to breathing without supplemental oxygen.

Nurses kept James comfortable, clean and cared for his wounds, which began to improve.

Pharmacists worked with infectious disease specialists to ensure James received the right amount of antibiotics and transitioned him from intravenous to oral medication. 
Physical and occupational therapists deployed a mobility program, helping James sit at the bed’s edge or in a chair to build core muscles and initiating arm and leg exercises using resistance bands and hand weights.

As James progressed, so did the coronavirus pandemic across the United States. In-person visits were restricted for the safety of patients and staff, so the team kept James’ mother updated by phone. 

After almost two months, he was medically stable but still profoundly weak. He required the assistance of two people just to get to the bed’s edge. He wasn’t sure where to turn next. 
A beacon of hope came from a video. Not the latest Hollywood release, but a video brochure for Helen M. Simpson Rehabilitation Hospital, shown to him by his case manager.   
One day later, James was transferred to this hospital, another part of Select Medical’s continuum of care, for inpatient rehabilitation.

A new, physician-led team of nurses and therapists designed an individualized treatment plan to advance his recovery.

Occupational therapists first worked with James on in-bed exercises, such as rolling side-to-side and going from lying flat to sitting on the bed’s edge.  He used weights and an arm bike and performed wheelchair push-ups to improve his upper body strength.

Physical therapists provided a grab bar to help him go from sitting to standing. He also focused on increasing strength in his legs by doing simulated leg press while seated in his wheelchair. He also participated in fun, skill-building activities, such as ball toss and ladder golf.

James worked hard. He asked his therapists for the next day’s schedule so he could prepare himself mentally. Back in his room, he’d exercise outside of the scheduled three hours of physical and occupational therapy each day. It wasn’t long before James stood for the first time in months and was able to use a walker to get to a wheelchair.

Therapists also provided training to James’ parents on the techniques that would ease the transition home. The team covered an entire day’s list of tasks, including self-care and getting out of the car. There was light, James said, at the end of the tunnel.

After nearly three months in hospitals, including three weeks at Helen Simpson, James was ready to go home. He was walking, transferring, taking care of daily living needs and able to eat independently.  His case manager set April 24 as the big day. However, a week before, James’ beloved grandmother died.

Making the funeral meant leaving three days early. His case manager sprang into action, coordinating multiple home care services and medical equipment deliveries to arrive ahead of schedule. A grateful James returned home to celebrate his grandmother’s life with family.

The unexpected journey gave James a new lease on life. He’d already started a weight loss program before becoming ill and is now more committed than ever to getting healthy. Thanks to the teams at SSH-Harrisburg and Helen Simpson, James now believes he has the power to do anything.