PUBLISHED: 5:10 PM on Wednesday, January 30, 2008
RECOVERY: Physical and Occupational Therapy
After he fell out of bed and wrenched his back, for weeks Gary Eddy was plagued with unbearable pain.

Neither conventional medical care nor chiropractic treatments worked. All else having failed, he underwent surgery in Anchorage.

Things then went from bad to worse when post surgical complications compromised lower back nerves. Eddy returned to Juneau paralyzed from the knees down.

Courtesy Photos
  Bartlett Regional Hospital members help Gary Eddy use his walker.
Now he is walking, albeit haltingly and with great effort. He says he owes his newfound mobility to the assistance of physical therapist Leslie Law. Eddy is so well motivated, Law said, she is optimistic he will recover the ability to walk with the help of a walker.

On a hillside above West Juneau, Amanda Thompson, a self described rock hound, saw a particularly interesting piece of quartz. As she went to reach for it, her left arm would not move. Neither would her left leg. A retired ER nurse, Thompson knew she had just suffered a stroke.

Three months later, with the help of occupational therapist Jill Lingle, she was able to get around on her own, and is now well on her way to winning back as much as 90 percent of her lost functions.

Gary Eddy has spinal stenosis in the fourth vertebrae of his spine's lumbar section - the lower back. Stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal, is often caused by arthritis.

When Eddy slipped off his bed and wrenched his back, the accident exacerbated an existing problem.

An engineer with the Department of Transportation in Juneau, Eddy, who is of Tlingit heritage, qualifies for medical care at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, one of the largest and best equipped medical centers in Alaska.

On Dec. 22, 2006, he found himself there on an operating table. A post-surgical blood clot may have further damaged his already compromised nerves, but whatever the cause, after surgery Eddy faced paralysis in his lower legs.

After two weeks in recovery, he transferred to the Alaska Regional Hospital for six weeks of physical and occupational therapy.

Courtesy Photo
  Patient Amanda Thompson speaks to occupational therapist Jill Lingle.
Returning to Juneau in a wheelchair, he made an appointment with Bartlett's Physical Rehabilitation department.

Eddy spent his first month of treatment with occupational therapist Jill Lingle.

"She graduated me out of that, and pretty much it has been Leslie [Law] ever since," Eddy said.

When he began therapy at Bartlett, Eddy could stand only with the greatest effort and a lot of help.

"Now, I can cross a room using a walker," he said.

It would be difficult to overstate Eddy's enthusiasm for his therapists at Bartlett. He considers the treatment he has received not just thorough, but inspiring. With his debility, he needs all the inspiration he can get.

While Eddy is not fully paralyzed - he can feel pin pricks on his feet - the nerves that control his leg muscles are largely unresponsive.

According to Law, Eddy's recovery has been remarkable. "He has shown such good progress. Gary is a super hard worker."

The two have worked on muscle strengthening by using electro-stimulation, parallel bars, and a walker. Some of the equipment needed retro-fitting to accommodate Eddy's 6-5 frame.

He has perhaps another year of therapy in front of him. His therapist and physician says he can expect improvement for 24 months.

According to Eddy, there is an upside:

"My daughter told me, Dad, you're really getting buff!"

"I was falling and hurting myself," Amanda Thompson recalls of the period immediately following her stroke. Very weak, unable to feel much on her left side, and all but blind in her left eye, she found herself colliding with door frames and other fixtures in her apartment.

Her occupational therapist, Bartlett's Jill Lingle, visited Thompson's apartment to assess the situation.

The solution? A colorful bracelet or tie of yarn: "Jill taught me to wear something bright on my left side so that I would be more aware of where my arm is."

Under Lingle's close supervision, Thompson practiced picking up coins and placing them one at a time into the slot of a box. The effort was laborious, but with Lingle's encouragement, Thompson kept to it.

"It is a little bit tiring, but if you want to get anywhere, get it back, you have to try as hard as you can, especially when your therapist is working so hard," Thompson said, nodding in Lingle's direction.

Thompson admits that at first she would forget where her left hand was.

"You never think about all the things you do naturally with your left hand," she said. "When you lose that, you are lost. I have a tendency to forget where the hand is. I once burned it very badly since I couldn't feel it. Now, when cooking something, I wear bright bracelets on my left arm. Now I'm getting sensation back."

The former nurse, who cared for many stroke victims, says "when it happens to you, it is like it is impossible. But there is no such phrase as I can't."

Given her professional experience with stroke victims, Thompson knows what she's talking about when she speaks of her therapist's skills: "Jill is very knowledgeable about how to help stroke victims. She is such a pleasant person to be around. Just by looking at me, she can tell if a muscle is sore, or needs strengthening. Jill is amazing."

Thompson has advice for fellow stroke victims.

"You have to have a determined attitude. You have to listen to your therapist and do as she says. If you don't, when your body starts to recover, you can hurt yourself."