Danna Scardino, PTA and Jessica Cybulski, PT, DPT on the outpatient spinal cord therapy team
According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, there are an estimated 282,000 people living in the United States today with a spinal cord injury – whether it is from car accidents, falls, sports injuries or a work-related accident.
Most often, people begin their rehabilitation from a spinal cord injury with an inpatient stay in an acute rehabilitation facility, learning to maximize strength and mobility and learning strategies for living independently. The question is what happens after discharge?
“Spinal cord injury patients referred to our outpatient physical therapy program receive a complete evaluation,” said Jessica Cybulski, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Bacharach. “Our patients typically have decreased strength and sensations or changes in tone. We assess each patient to determine core strength, balance and ability to transfer in and out of a wheelchair.” The patient’s level of motion is also evaluated. Jessica continued, “It is important to keep movement in the ankles, knees and hips available in case future research might allow those with spinal cord injuries to move or even stand up again. These exercises also help with circulation and prevent breakdown of the skin in patients who are sitting all day.”
Once the evaluation is complete, the Bacharach team creates an individualized treatment plan. Patients are usually seen for one hour twice a week. Danna Scardino, PTA, a physical therapy assistant at Bacharach, described the therapy sessions. “We keep it interesting and focus on each patient and what they need and like to do at home. We incorporate fun activities that will help people get back to their lives. For example, if someone loves to cook, we will focus on exercises to build up core strength, incorporating the twisting and turning motions needed for movement at the stove and in the kitchen.”
The spinal cord injury team also serves as an important educational resource for patients. Jessica shared, “As people become more comfortable with us, they begin to ask more questions, which promotes open communication. We are able to help them process all of the information they have been receiving since their injury. We really develop a very personal relationship with our patients.”
As patients progress and are able to become more and more independent, the Bacharach team provides them with referrals and information to help them achieve their goals. Danna said, “One of our patients was interested in learning to use a kayak, and we referred him to a local service that could provide lessons. There are many fun activities available – for example, there are beach chairs with tires that individuals with spinal cord injuries can reserve if they want to go to the beach. We serve as advocates and as a support team for our patients and always encourage them to be positive.”
Both Danna and Jessica find their jobs fulfilling and get great satisfaction out of helping their patients successfully achieve their goals. Jessica shared, “Physical therapy is a hugely rewarding profession. Many of our younger patients do not want to rely on family members to help get them dressed. They have a desire to be involved in sports like other people their age. Helping them to be as independent as possible and stay active, although in a different capacity than before their injury is truly gratifying.”
Danna recalls, “Over the years, I have worked with many patients who want to see their daughter walk down the aisle or be able to stand up for family wedding photos. Seeing them work so hard and rise to the occasion puts me in awe of what they are able to overcome.”
At Bacharach, our CARF-accredited spinal cord injury program offers comprehensive inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation services. Our team of specialists provides patients with the physical and emotional support they need to reach their fullest potential and live the fullest lives possible after injury.