Eleanor’s Story: 82-year-old Finds a Recipe for Success After Severe Injury

Success stories
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Eleanor Bertuch isn’t shy about her appreciation for the nurses and therapists at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Toms River who helped her get better after a severe fall left her unable to walk. She kept notes about each member of her care team in her journal to be sure she could compliment them should she receive a post-discharge survey or other opportunity to sing their praises. Her opportunity has arrived.

Life-Changing Fall

Bertuch was going about her regular grocery shopping when she reached to grab an item and fell. She shattered her ankle, requiring a four-hour surgery, two plates and 24 stitches. “I saw the X-rays. My ankle looked like pieces of a cookie,” Bertuch said.

Falling is common among the older population, accounting for about 3 million emergency room visits each year. Bertuch’s surgery was successful, but she was in a cast and unable to bear any weight on her affected leg.

A Hospital She Could Trust

As a mother to two nurses and a volunteer Eucharistic Minister frequently called on to administer elements of Holy Communion to hospital patients, she had knowledge of the medical field and was aware of nearby hospitals’ specialties. In order to work toward her previous level of independence after leaving the hospital where she had surgery, Bertuch chose Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Toms River, where she knew she would undergo therapy developed specifically for her goals. From her arrival to discharge, Burtech kept up with her journal, starting with her condition upon admission.

Getting Her Life Back

Before her fall, Bertuch was an active person who got joy from the little things, like browsing the aisles and bakery at Trader Joe’s for dips and snacks, and admiring the store’s floral department. “It’s more of an adventure and another form of therapy for me,” Bertuch said. “Before I smashed my ankle, I could do anything. After, I could only use one leg. I couldn’t stand on one leg. I’m not a flamingo.”

Eleanor Bertuch with her therapists, Sara Whitney and Chris Kalwinsky.

Once at Encompass Health Toms River, she met her physical therapist Sara Whitney and occupational therapist Chris Kalwinsky. “Eleanor arrived needing assistance of two helpers for her daily tasks, including getting in and out of bed, bathing and dressing. We were able to utilize various adaptive equipment and durable medical equipment to adapt the activity so Eleanor was able to be independent and return home to her husband and family,” Whitney said. Recovery takes time, so her therapists started slow. At first they helped Bertuch learn to safely transfer from her bed to the wheelchair and then from the wheelchair to the bathroom so she could do her hair and makeup. Bertuch blossomed from there as she got back on her feet and regained more function in her lower body. “These two inspired me, gave me confidence every day, and most importantly showed me to how to do everything myself. These two gave me my life back,” she said.

She would set her mind to a task and work her hardest to achieve it. Seeing patients like Eleanor work so hard to reach their goals and return home is what makes my job so fulfilling.”

-Sara Whitney, physical therapist

Recovery Continues at Home

After a two-week stay, Bertuch was strong enough to walk with a walker, making it easier for her to tend to her daily needs. Her progress meant she could return home to her husband of 62 years. “Before I was tethered to a wheelchair. I couldn’t get in and out of the car. Now I’m able to do that with no problems and that’s thanks to the good care I got from all the people at Encompass Health.”

From the comfort of her home, she enjoys journaling, crocheting and reading. Plus, she returned to her local Trader Joe’s to once again search for delicious foods and pretty floral arrangements.

In addition to an increased level of independence, “the therapists were instrumental in helping me get all the medical supplies I needed to get back to living again.” Now Bertuch is able to bear weight on her affected leg and participate in outpatient therapy to help her get even stronger.

Showing Gratitude

Bertuch expressed the importance of sharing her positive experience to ensure her community is aware of Encompass Health’s level of care should they find themselves in a similar situation. Thanks to her handy journal, she recalls every single person who had a hand in her recovery. “I am so grateful that these people there were able to help me. They weren’t just great, they were incredible!”

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