Rehab Helps Woman Move Forward After Brain Surgery

Vicky Nelson (left) works with HealthSouth Physical Therapist Sharon Rose to improve her balance and core strength.  Vicky transitioned from HealthSouth Nittany Valley’s inpatient hospital to the outpatient clinic in Pleasant Gap to continue therapy after a non-traumatic brain injury.  (Provided photo)

Vicky Nelson (left) works with HealthSouth Physical Therapist Sharon Rose to improve her balance and core strength. Vicky transitioned from HealthSouth Nittany Valley’s inpatient hospital to the outpatient clinic in Pleasant Gap to continue therapy after a non-traumatic brain injury. (Provided photo)

PLEASANT GAP – Vicky Nelson, 35, is an avid runner.  Vicky completed two half-marathons this past fall, and has plans for many more.  “My goal is to run in every state and abroad,” she says.

However, Vicky’s life took an unexpected turn last year after struggling for months with symptoms that had her concerned.  “I was having headaches, hearing changes and problems with my balance, “she explains.

“After running a half-marathon in Virginia, I remember feeling like something was not right in my head.” Months of trying to determine the cause of her symptoms resulted in an MRI, which showed a brain tumor, called a vestibular schwannoma.

A vestibular schwannoma (also known as acoustic neuroma) is a benign, usually slow-growing tumor that develops from the balance and hearing nerves supplying the inner ear.  As the tumor grows, it presses against the hearing and balance nerves, usually causing hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), and dizziness/loss of balance.  It can cause facial numbness, facial weakness or paralysis on the side of the tumor. If the tumor becomes large, it will eventually press against nearby brain structures (such as the brainstem and the cerebellum), becoming life-threatening.

Vicky had surgery to remove the tumor at the Cleveland Clinic on Nov. 1.  Six days later, she went to HealthSouth Nittany Valley Rehabilitation Hospital in Pleasant Gap for inpatient rehabilitation.

Vicky worked to regain her balance and to relearn activities of daily living again, from dressing to preparing meals.   She had three hours of therapy a day, including physical, occupational and speech therapy.  Therapists also worked with Vicky on vestibular exercises and balance testing to help her walk safely and with more stability.

After 13 days at HealthSouth, Vicky was able to be discharged to her home in Bellefonte.  With a husband, two young sons and a daughter in college, she has plenty of inspiration to get better. Vicky adds, “Attitude is everything; it’s the way I was raised.  You can’t let this consume you.”

Now that she is home, Vicky continues her therapy three days a week at HealthSouth’s outpatient clinic in Pleasant Gap.  As an educator for the last 10 years in both public and private sectors, Vicky is looking forward to working again.  “”The hands of healthcare, my faith, and continued support from family and friends are helping me to move forward,” she says.

“Vicky is an inspiration,” says HealthSouth Case Manager Michelle Heverly.  “She was always positive and determined to improve. And now she wants to share her story to help others who may be in a similar situation.”  Vicky says, “Everyone at HealthSouth, including the doctors, cleaning staff, nurses and therapists, all represented excellence in customer service.  You don’t see that often these days.”

She adds, “I would love to donate my time to a place that took such good care of me.”  When Vicky is ready, she and the therapists at HealthSouth’s Outpatient Clinic in Pleasant Gap are planning to run a 5K race to celebrate her recovery.

March is National Brain Injury Awareness Month.  HealthSouth Nittany Valley Rehabilitation Hospital has a Disease-Specific Care Certification from the Joint Commission for its Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program, and provides both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation. HealthSouth’s Brain Injury Support Group, held on the second Tuesday of the month, is open to the public.  For more information call 1-800-842-6026 or visit www.nittanyvalleyrehab.com.  

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