Dramar Saul has been married to Penni, who has been his best friend since middle school. They share two young daughters, ages one and five. The 43-year old teacher also worked in the flooring department at Home Depot, because as Dramar says, “who wouldn’t want to work at their favorite store?”
Dramar is no stranger to illness. He was diagnosed with diabetes at age 12 and developed high blood pressure in his twenties, which would eventually lead to kidney failure. He started on dialysis, and at age 32 received his first kidney transplant. Unfortunately, the kidney only lasted one year. At age 37, Dramar received a second kidney transplant from his sister. Sadly, that kidney failed as well. His chronic acute kidney rejection also led to his next major health hurdles.
In June, Dramar was taken to a hospital in New Orleans where he began treatment for kidney rejection, including chemotherapy, plasmapheresis and multiple blood transfusions. He was sent home, but returned a few days later due to a septic infection and bone infection in his left foot. Although doctors discussed the possible need for amputation, Dramar refused. He wanted to make sure he explored all options before resorting to amputation. In his heart, he felt that faith and prayer would help him through.
Dramar continued to receive kidney rejection therapy for the next three months until he was ready for the next step. In September, he was transferred to a long-term acute care hospital where they provided additional healing support. However, Dramar found he wasn’t moving much which was causing him to gain weight and made it difficult to get around. Gradually, dialysis treatments removed excess fluid, and he began to slowly improve. In November, he was ready to tackle inpatient rehabilitation at Northshore Rehabilitation Hospital.
Dramar faced many challenges upon arrival, including extreme weakness and loss of function from being in bed for months. He could not walk independently and was unable to bear weight to climb stairs. He set short-term goals, which included walking again, improving overall mobility and getting back to his everyday life. His long-term goals were to return to his family and the ability to travel and participate in sports and other outdoor family activities.
In physical therapy, Dramar started with exercises focused on sitting balance, followed by standing balance. Then the team worked on helping Dramar reach a primary goal – walking. On his first day, he took 12 steps with assistance, the furthest he had walked in five months. With plenty of encouragement from staff, Dramar increased his walking distance to 76 feet, then 108 feet. He also practiced walking on various surfaces such as a step up/step down mat and stair steps. Two weeks into his rehabilitation program, he was able to walk up and down eight steps. That was the moment Dramar knew he had turned a big corner in his recovery.
Occupational therapy sessions consisted of upper extremity strength training using free weights, pulleys and therapy resistance bands. Dramar also participated in adaptive equipment training using a reacher, long handled shoehorn and sock aid for putting on/taking off socks and shoes. Standing balance training, upper extremity exercises and safety training during shower and toilet transfers were also done as part of therapy to prepare Dramar for his return home.
Despite COVID-19 visitation restrictions, Dramar felt amazing support from his family and community. He was able to call and FaceTime chat with Penni and his children. Penni also organized a prayer group with more than 70 people from coast-to-coast who prayed together for Dramar’s health and wellness. In addition, extended family members assisted the family financially while Dramar was out of work. This incredibly strong support system was a great motivator for Dramar to keep working hard so he could return to his family, which he did just after two weeks at Northshore Rehabilitation. Upon discharge, he was able to walk 500 feet with the use of his walker and minimal assistance.
Dramar shared, “I just want to sit outside and watch my kids play.” He was also looking forward to attending his daughter’s dance recital and catching up on things he missed while hospitalized. “I wasn’t there for my youngest daughter’s first steps, and I missed her first birthday party. There are a lot of things we have to celebrate.”
Dramar offered the following advice for others who might be going through similar struggles. “Set your goals and stick to them. As for me, my journey continues.”