Karen Zickefoose, 53, is a mother to three grown children and a grandmother to seven grandchildren. She lives in Wooster, Ohio where she works as a nurse in Akron and enjoys spending time with her grandkids. She started to notice pain in her right leg but figured it was related to hip surgery that she had in 2017 after a car accident. However, the pain continued and on a February morning she woke up with a fever. Originally, she thought she may have COVID-19 but tested negative twice and was unsure of what to do next. Three days later, the pain worsened and Karen was unable to walk in a straight line. Her son took her to Medina Hospital.
Karen was diagnosed with an infection that entered her bloodstream and settled in her heart leading to septic shock. The hospital found abnormal growths on her heart and noticed that the bacterial infection had started to turn the tips of her fingers and toes black. Following an MRI, they also found the infection was present in both of her hips. From the emergency department, she was transferred to the main campus to undergo several surgeries. She had a heart catheter placed and had open-heart surgery to remove the growths and repair her mitral valve. Karen also underwent surgery to have both hips opened and cleaned.
As a result of the illness and surgeries, Karen was unable to walk, use her left arm or perform most daily living activities. She chose Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation Hospital, Edwin Shaw -- the same place she learned to walk again after her accident in 2017 -- as the next step in her recovery.
Upon admission, Karen’s goals were to walk again and get back to normal life. To help achieve those goals, she began a regimen of physical and occupational therapy.
In physical therapy, Karen utilized specialized equipment such as a standing frame and a Rifton TRAM to relearn how to stand and walk again. The Rifton TRAM is a transfer and mobility device that allowed part of Karen's body weight to be supported so therapists could help her walk with no risk of falling. Karen also used a seated stepping machine that helped strengthen her legs and increase mobility. One of Karen's favorite activities was doing squats. By the end of her stay she was able to do partial squats without the help of her therapists.
In occupational therapy, Karen started out not being able to complete any of her daily living tasks such as bathing, dressing, toileting or getting in and out of bed in her traditional way. She utilized a “shower buddy” which is a shower chair that rolls from the patient’s bedside into the shower to increase safety and decrease fatigue. Therapists also had Karen work on increasing arm strength by using weights, allowing her to decrease her level of assistance needed for transfers and daily tasks. As Karen built up her strength, she progressed from activities like playing games while standing, to washing dishes, doing laundry, baking brownies and making a bed.
Karen was incredibly thankful for the therapy team, stating, “They’re amazing because they’re just so encouraging and even when you’re feeling scared and down, they help you feel like you can do it. They make you feel safe with every new thing you’re going to learn."
Karen’s “ah-ha” moment was when she was able to use the walker to stand and pivot again. Karen said, “This made me feel like I was getting somewhere and could do this at home.”
Her family and friends also played a monumental role in her journey. They were supportive of her every step of the way with cards, calls and texts. One of her daughters and grandchildren even visited her outside her hospital window when COVID restrictions prevented them from going inside.
After one month at Edwin Shaw, Karen was independent for transfers and dressing and had also regained function in her left arm. She returned home excited to spend as much time as possible with her grandbabies.
Karen will continue with therapy at home with a hope of transitioning to outpatient therapy. For others in similar situations Karen wanted to share that, “No matter what condition you arrive in at Edwin Shaw, it’s so worth it because they’re going to take you to your max potential. Whatever you can do they’re going to get you there if you are willing to put in the work.”