Karen's Story

Karen using a total body exerciser in a therapy session.

Karen O’Hara had been suffering from chronic back pain, caused by scoliosis, since she was 18 years old. She dealt with the pain for years. Over time, the unevenness in Karen’s spine caused her to limp. She also began tripping frequently. Doctors used shoe inserts to help even out her hips.  Additionally, Karen had chiropractic work done and tried physical therapy. Unfortunately, the frequent tripping and falling eventually returned, and Karen and her doctors decided surgery would be the next best option.

Planning for the surgery was a big undertaking as Karen was living with and serving as her disabled brother’s caretaker.  Due to COVID-19, Karen had also just been laid off as a medical transcriptionist.  With more time for recovery, she decided now, 45 years after her initial diagnosis, was the time to pursue getting her quality of life back.

Karen had her surgery at Ochsner Medical Center. All went well, but she needed to relearn how to walk and become independent again.

Her medical team at Ochsner Medical Center recommended an inpatient rehabilitation hospital for further therapy and recovery. Karen chose Northshore Rehabilitation Hospital for its reputation and the ability to keep her medical care within the same health system.

When Karen transferred to Northshore, her primary goal was to return home with independence in all daily living activities. “I wanted to be as independent as possible,” said Karen. To help her achieve this goal, Karen started working with an interdisciplinary team of physical and occupational therapists.

In occupational therapy, Karen’s team started with exercises that taught her how to move properly with a brace on, how to get in and out of the shower and how to use the toilet and get dressed using adaptive equipment. They also worked on her standing balance and endurance so she would be able to cook independently. Next, the team worked with Karen on walking up and down stairs so she would be able to navigate steps when she returned home.

In physical therapy, she used a machine called a SciFit stepper which helped her to loosen up a lot of the tightness that was limiting her movement. Therapists also had Karen perform exercises to increase leg strength along with practicing walking to increase functional mobility.

Two moments that stick out in Karen’s mind -- when she was able to stand up on her own for the first time and when she was able to go to the bathroom without any assistance.  “That’s when I knew I was on the road to returning home with independence,” said Karen.

Karen was also touched by how comforting and nurturing her care team was. “One of the nurses offered to sit with me and hold my hand when my stitches came out, which was very comforting.” Because Karen’s family wasn’t able to visit due to COVID-19 restrictions, she felt like she had the compassion and support she needed from the hospital team.

Her brother also provided support by dropping off items she needed including some “comforts of home” that she was missing.

After two weeks at Northshore, Karen was ready to return home, able to walk short distances without the brace or a walker -- a surprising achievement for her. “I didn’t expect that,” Karen said. “I expected to have to use a walker constantly, but now I don’t have to.”

Karen looks forward to being completely free of pain and independent. She also learned a lot about herself during the recovery journey, saying, “If I put my mind to it, I can achieve my goals.”  Karen plans continue regaining strength with physical therapy in an outpatient setting.