Gerald Mathes, 85, enjoys the outdoors and spending time with family. When working on a ladder building a permanent tree stand with his granddaughter’s husband, the ladder shifted and he fell, suffering a severe injury as a result. His grandson-in-law jumped into action, riding his four-wheeler to the house and instructing Gerald’s wife, Olga, to call 911. The emergency team had to dispatch a specialized truck to get Gerald out of the woods. He was then transported by ambulance to a nearby neighbor’s property where a helicopter then airlifted Gerald to the Tulane Medical Center campus in Covington. From there he was transferred by ambulance to Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans.
Once he arrived, Gerald was assessed by the medical team and prepped for reconstructive surgery on his neck. He gets emotional when he thinks back to his conversation with the surgeon prior to the procedure, where he was emphatic about wanting to get back to walking, using his right arm and shooting his rifle.
When he medically stabilized after surgery, Gerald, his medical team and family decided that his best next step would be an inpatient rehabilitation hospital. After speaking to a family friend who works in the medical field, they decided that Northshore Rehabilitation Hospital would be the best choice.
Gerald admitted with very limited use of his limbs. He was unable to walk, get out of bed or use either of his arms. Gerald immediately set a goal to try to get everything moving again.
His physical therapists began to work on Gerald’s strength and mobility using Therabands and an overhead track system to prevent falling while he learned to take steps. He also used the leg stepper machine and various leg strengthening exercises. Gerald then progressed to walking with a rolling walker. Initially, he was able to walk about 40 feet with the walker, but after two weeks he went as far as 340 feet.
In occupational therapy, the team worked with Gerald on strengthening his arms and increasing range of motion using targeted therapy exercises and electric stimulation. Occupational therapy also introduced Gerald to a reacher, a sock aide and a long handle sponge to increase his independence while dressing and bathing.
Gerald also found motivation through his family. “Having the support of my family has meant everything. They have played such a huge role, and they have been by my side throughout my recovery,” he said.
After 36 days at Northshore Rehabilitation Hospital, Gerald was ready to go home where he will continue building his strength through outpatient therapy. He expressed gratitude for the care he received, stating, “My experience at Northshore was very good, they have a very qualified and capable team.”
Asked what he learned about himself during recovery, Gerald responded, “Patience—I had to learn patience.” He also offered this advice to anyone facing recovery: “Just don’t give up. Stay with it.”