Knoxville Woman Finds Hope at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center
Nancy Piske lives in west Knoxville with her husband and terrier pup. Despite enjoying retirement, she found herself dragging her left leg and walking with a defined limp. She sought medical care when the numbness in her legs caused her to fall, hurting her left knee and breaking her wrist.
“I thought I was just a geezer,” she laughs. “I had underestimated the pain I was in, and I should have gone to the doctor sooner.”
After an MRI and several other tests, Piske’s care team discovered a benign tumor (called a schwannoma) on her spinal cord that was creating problems in her left leg. Why a schwannoma develops is unknown, but doctors confirmed the tumor would continue to grow, and Piske would face paralysis if she didn’t have it removed.
In December 2019 the spinal tumor was surgically removed at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. The damage done by the tumor had already caused incomplete paraplegia, which is why she felt numbness and dragged one leg. She woke up in her hospital room after surgery and had no feeling below the waist. There was no reassurance she would walk again.
A steady source of unwavering support, Piske’s husband of 50 years held her hand while they faced a new reality: because of the partial paralysis, she would have to use a wheelchair. “I couldn’t move at all. It was the most horrific feeling,” she recalls.
Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center
After five days in the hospital, Piske spent 21 days at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center where she underwent vigorous physical and occupational therapy. She learned how to brush her teeth, get dressed and transfer in and out of bed from her wheelchair.
Piske says she does not have adequate words to express her gratitude for the extraordinary caregivers at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center who aided her through this challenging time. “I had a physician come every day and check on me,” she says. “I was in such grief. They know you’re feeling low, and everyone showed such compassion and patience.
“The nurses and everyone, they treated me like family,” Piske recalls. “You get to know them and which shifts they work. I just fell in love with them all. Their bedside manners were so sweet.
“They’ve impacted my life in such a hugely positive way. I knew I had the best care possible. I am so grateful for everyone who worked so hard to get me up and moving. You could tell they really cared.”
Piske’s inpatient rehabilitation therapists encouraged her and pushed her to her maximum ability. “They would not let you quit. Sometimes it hurts to do things your body doesn’t want to do,” Piske says. “You had a schedule every day that you stuck to. You got an hour for lunch. Luckily, the food was excellent.”
One of her occupational therapists was Mike Orillion, OTR/L (pictured left), who helps spine patients at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center with daily living skills. Orillion says, “We start with a lot of education, like how to move safely from one place to another.” He recalls Piske having no sensation in her legs. “I’m usually the first therapist they see, so I try to let my patients know they’re in a good place.”
He continues, “I do this on a regular basis, so I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. My patients may not be able to see it. I know the potential progress they can make two weeks down the road, but it’s hard for them to picture it. We focus on the issue for that day and just help them deal with the ‘here and now.’”
Hope at Home
After her treatment at Patricia Neal was complete, Piske went home determined. She continued her hard work with help from a Covenant HomeCare physical therapist, and was able to learn to transition from a wheelchair to a walker with wheels. Next, Piske went from in-home physical therapy to outpatient therapy at Covenant Health Therapy Center – West Knoxville. (Read about her experience at the therapy center.) There, she transitioned from the walker to a cane, which she continues to manage.
Her journey to heal continues; Piske describes the past year as humbling and eye-opening, and maintains one thing ever fervently: her trust in the Lord.
She reflects, “They couldn’t tell me if I would walk again, because spinal cord injuries are hard to predict. That’s why I know it was the Lord, and I want to give all the glory to Him. I have no feeling below the waist, and yet I can walk. It’s truly a miracle.”