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Physical Therapy Combats a Patient’s Fear

VNSNY Physical Therapist Steven S.When Joan* came home from the hospital after being treated for a small subdural hematoma—a bleeding in her skull due to a fall—the doctors agreed she had suffered no lasting neurological damage. But that diagnosis couldn’t dispel her overwhelming fear of falling again. “She was petrified and could barely move,” noted Steven S., the VNSNY physical therapist assigned to her case. Steven, who served for two decades in the military (including a stint as squad leader in Iraq) before coming to VNSNY, listened carefully to her concerns. Then, he began working with her to rebuild her confidence.

One key turning point was the first time Joan climbed steps on her own. “I told her, I’m right here with you,” Steven recalled. “When she made it up two steps, her eyes lit up.” Another important moment was when Steven suspected her weakness might be a sign of anemia—a suspicion borne out by a blood test. Once that was treated, her newfound strength, together with Steven’s creative methods, eventually had her walking without a rollator or cane. Her stride was guided by colored tape markings that he placed on the floor. After Joan was discharged, her daughter, who is a medical doctor, sent a letter praising Steven’s efforts. “What he accomplished was truly miraculous,” she wrote.

“What the mind can believe, the body can achieve,” added Steven. “My motto is, reach for the stars. That way, even we miss, we hit the moon.”

* The patient’s name has been changed for privacy.