Hollie’s Story: Limb Loss Leads to Career in Therapy

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Hollie Grant arrived at Fairlawn Rehabilitation Hospital, an affiliate of Encompass Health in Worcester, MA, in 2003, after a bacterial meningitis diagnosis left her with amputations and skin grafts. She was 20 years old. Two decades later, Grant’s journey has come full circle as a case manager at the same hospital where she recovered.

‘I’m Helpless’

As a junior at Westfield State University, Grant’s life was on track. She was dating the man who would become her husband and studying criminal justice. Everything changed when she contracted bacterial meningitis, a serious and sometimes fatal disease that occurs when the tissues (meninges) around the spinal cord and brain become infected. Damage to the blood vessels starves the extremities of blood and oxygen, and tissue begins to die. It is this process that leads to the amputation of fingers, toes and limbs.

In Grant’s case, both of her legs and her fingers on her left hand were amputated. After release from the hospital, Grant began the next phase of her recovery, inpatient rehabilitation at Fairlawn Rehabilitation Hospital. The goal was for Grant to adapt to life with a wheelchair so she could be independent, return home and use prosthetic legs. This would be accomplished through three hours of therapy five days per week, including both physical and occupational therapy. “Initially when I got here, I shut down. I didn’t want anything to do with anything because it was very scary. I had no legs. I’m in bed. I’m helpless. I wasn’t ready to deal with that,” she said. But with her family, friends and boyfriend by her side, Grant persevered.

Trusting her Therapists

It was a rough start, but Grant’s therapists believed in her. Over her three-month stay, Grant and her therapists became very close. “That helped me get motivated and feel more comfortable.” Her therapists also ensured she got to celebrate her 21st birthday. They coordinated with her family to throw a surprise party in the rehab gym. “I will never forget that,” she said.

She began to enjoy her therapy sessions, particularly occupational therapy, where she learned to adapt to limb loss and focus on independently carrying out everyday activities. All the while, her family, friends and community were cheering her on. “I was surrounded by so much love. I had visitors and people championing me from the around the county. I was supported everywhere and that kept me going.”

Community Support

While she was ill, the community started the Everybody Loves Hollie Fund, raising more than $100,000. A local contractor built a wheelchair-accessible addition onto her parents’ home. The love of her life, Matt, stuck by her.

Grant was discharged in March 2004 after three months in inpatient rehabilitation. “I went home independent at a wheelchair level, which was cool,” Grant said. A few months after returning home, Grant had two prosthetic legs and was walking. With a focus on her education, Grant was ready to return to school, but with a different career path in mind.

Changing Careers

Her experience at Encompass Health inspired Grant to switch careers from criminal justice to therapy. Matt helped her research degree programs and choose between physical and occupational therapy. “I’m crafty and creative so I liked that aspect of OT because you take what somebody has and implement that into the life they want to live. I’m doing that myself every day so I can teach people to do that as well,” she said.

Grant attended Worcester State University’s five-year master’s program. She earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree, graduating in 2009. She and Matt got married in 2010.

After graduating, Grant worked as an occupational therapist in a nursing home for eight years and then home health for seven years. In 2022, a former colleague reached out to Grant. The colleague wanted to recruit Grant to work as a case manager at the hospital where she recovered. “I never thought about case management, so I looked into it and thought it was cool,” Grant said.

From Occupational Therapy to Case Management

With a 15-year OT career, Grant took a leap of faith and accepted the case manager role. “I think it’s amazing to come back full circle to the place that literally brought me back to life and where I always felt so comfortable and cared for. I had amazing therapists, amazing nurses, amazing aides, all of whom I can remember by name.”

As a case manager, Grant plays a key role in communicating with patients and their families to help ensure their safety when they leave Encompass Health. This requires frequent communication with therapists to understand where the patients are in their recovery and if they are making positive gains or not. “A big part of my job is helping to ensure that a patient’s discharge, no matter where they go, is safe. That keeps them at their highest functional level and keeps them from coming back to the hospital.”

Empathizing with Patients

Grant says she doesn’t usually bring up her own recovery journey, but is open about it with people who ask. “I have two prosthetic legs. Obviously, my hand isn’t hidden and in the summer if I wear short sleeves I have visible scars on my arm. It’s not something I hide, but it’s not something I volunteer.”

But still, her past helps her relate to her patients, particularly those who are nervous to return home. Grant explained that some patients don’t want to go home because they are afraid they won’t thrive outside of a care setting. As a former patient and OT who worked in people’s homes, she is able to make them feel more comfortable and confident. “When patients go home, that taps into the emotional part of rehabilitation. The home environment can be adapted in so many ways and they might know about it. It was a neat jump from OT to case management because I’ve been on one end and now I’m on this end preparing them to go home.”

Family Life

Grant would use her wheelchair at night before having children. “When I got pregnant I was on bed rest in the hospital for a month and I didn’t have my wheelchair there. I just put my prosthetic legs on and off,” she explained. When she got home, she continued that way. “The wheelchair just sits in my basement collecting dust. I wear my legs all day every day.”

Grant and Matt have two daughters, Raegans and Emma.

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