Brian Mullins, a 58-year-old chemical plant employee, was living a full life with his wife, Stacey, five children and five grandchildren. Then, in October, Brian started to experience shortness of breath and fatigue. He was taken to a local hospital, where he tested positive for COVID-19.
During his hospital stay, Brian experienced cardiac arrest and was resuscitated with CPR and epinephrine. He was then placed on a ventilator and treated for COVID-19 symptoms. After nearly a month, Brian stabilized and was ready to continue his recovery with inpatient rehabilitation. He was transferred to Northshore Rehabilitation Hospital.
As a result of his illness, Brian lost 50 pounds and experienced decreased endurance and extreme generalized weakness. This was difficult for Brian as before contracting the virus, he was at the gym four days a week. He went from pressing 225 pounds to barely being able to lift an eight-pound bar. “I was getting down and depressed about that,” said Brian. “But my therapists encouraged me, and I thought here’s my chance, I get to start over so let’s go.”
Brian also experienced speech difficulties and challenges with everyday tasks such as using the restroom and feeding himself. His short-term goals included improving his hand function, being able to care for himself and regaining independence. His long-term goals were getting back to work and spending time with his family.
During his stay at Northshore Rehabilitation Hospital, Brian participated in physical therapy where he practiced walking on various surfaces, such as a curb edge and balance board, to challenge his balance and increase his endurance. Brian also practiced walking with a walker and using leg weights and the step machine to improve lower body strength.
In occupational therapy, Brian participated in exercises to improve the strength and endurance in his upper body. He also participated in activities using therapy putty, putting a peg in a hole and lacing (passing a string through a small hole) to improve his fine motor skills. All these exercises and activities enabled Brian to manage self-care tasks such as feeding himself, dressing, tying shoes, lacing belt loops and performing oral hygiene.
Brian initially had mild difficulty with swallowing and slurred speech so his speech therapists taught Brian speech strategies and swallowing exercises which greatly helped.
Brian remembers his turning point being about a week into his rehab stay. “The exercises became easier, and I began to notice recovery happening,” Brian said. Although there were still many challenges to overcome, Brian persevered and progressed to standing and walking unassisted -- eventually walking 1,500 feet independently. He also became fully independent for self-care tasks and made significant improvements in speech.
In addition to his therapy team, Brian credits his family for playing a key role in his recovery. “My wife has been very supportive,” Brian said. Stacey participated in Care Partner meetings and family training sessions where his therapy team provided education so she could help Brian when he returned home.
A little more than two weeks after arriving, Brian was ready to return home. He was most looking forward to “getting back to family and everyday life.” Brian was also incredibly grateful to be well enough to celebrate the birth of a new grandchild with his family in the near future.
Brian describes his overall experience at Northshore Rehabilitation Hospital as a “positive and helpful experience,” adding that he has been very impressed with the staff as a whole. “I’ve been away from home for a long time, but I’m glad I was here.”
Brian plans to continue getting stronger through outpatient physical therapy.