Right after Christmas in 2006, Coreen was hiking in a rural wooded area of her family property with her husband and their two dogs. It had recently snowed. They were following a familiar trail that was alongside a ledge and were careful with their steps. The dogs were over-excited because the season’s first snow was unfamiliar. Often we hear of stories where people say that in an instant circumstances changed their life. This was the case for Coreen on that afternoon. Running beside her, as fast as they could, the dogs slid off the rock ledge that she and her husband so carefully planned not to be on.
Realizing the immediate danger, her husband, Scott, advised Coreen not to move; he would carefully guide the two of them to safety. One small step and instantly he too fell off the ledge, yelling back, again with instructions not to move. He was coming to help. As Coreen was standing there waiting for his help, she was thinking about the experimental back surgery she recently had, with terrific results. Knowing there was no way she wanted to re-injure her back, she slowly turned sideways to prevent and direct a possible fall to that area.
Coreen doesn’t recall anything else until, “I felt burning and knew my head was bleeding. I couldn’t see. My neck hurt and I couldn’t move my head and I knew I didn’t want my husband to take my hat off.”
With no way to get help, Scott eventually got Coreen up but she could not stand straight. Hunched over and in pain, experiencing periods of visual blackness, she and Scott made their way back home. Coreen was taken to a local emergency room where she was given medication for pain and swelling and was discharged after a few hours. Her diagnosis was a post concussive injury. She rested for the next three days mainly because it hurt to move her neck. She was also experiencing dizziness and unstable balance.
Determined to go back to work, Coreen tried to resume her hectic schedule and demanding responsibilities as claims manager of an insurance company. She immediately knew she was having problems. She couldn’t read road signs, her balance was off, she would forget things people later told her she said, she could not concentrate in meetings, she was overwhelmed with daily tasks, she couldn’t manage her check book, her schedule, even her grocery list. She saw her primary care physician who advised her to cut her work schedule back and referred her to New England Rehabilitation Hospital of Portland (NERHP) for outpatient therapy.
Coreen’s care team, consisting of a physiatrist (a physician who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation), neuropsychologist, physical therapist, occupational therapist and speech therapist, implemented a treatment plan. Each discipline tended to the various debilities that were adversely impacting Coreen’s activities of daily living. Her initial evaluation and overall medical oversight was the responsibility of her physiatrist.
Dizziness and balance issues were addressed by her physical therapist. Organization and strength pacing were addressed by developing and practicing strategies with her occupational therapist. Her speech therapist helped with her cognition and concentration, so necessary for enabling her to return to work. Coreen’s neuropsychologist played an integral part in helping her and her family cope with and adjust to social issues - dealing with the changes her family and friends were seeing in the person that seemed the same on the outside, but was acting differently now.
In Coreen’s own words, she explains what she learned and how she benefited from her therapies at NERHP. “I had both visual and attention issues and sitting in any meeting was very difficult. I learned to position myself to limit the visual exposure, meaning that I would sit with my back against any windows. I used my daily planner and added my meetings each week. I put the planner on my table to review before bed and then in the morning. When I was in meetings, I would lose focus so I would doodle on a piece of paper and then try to interject every so often and engage in conversation to increase my attention. I would listen to classical music which helps relax yet stimulate my brain. When I was overwhelmed I focused on breathing … this is one thing that really made a huge difference for me. When I could not calm down I would remove myself from whatever the situation was. I only did my bills in the mornings when I was rested. I would set time aside to do bills like an appointment and try to do them one to three times a month. I had set times I would go to my mailbox. I planned my breakfast and lunch prior to work to give myself fewer decisions when I was there. I learned to set boundaries and really stick to them.”
Coreen made great progress, noting that her biggest achievement is her reconnection with physical activity. Coreen, who participated in sports and running prior to her accident, can now run again with more enthusiasm than ever.
"I needed to go forward and work toward something that is bigger than me," she exclaimed.
She has started a group called "Moms in Motion" and enjoys the rewards of being able to help others who think they can’t run, and seeing them finish their goal. Her encouraging mantra is “Yes, you can do it if you just think you can!"
As Coreen moves forward with her life, she wanted to share a closing remark about her care at NERHP.
"The support that I received from here and learning to focus on what I have, not what I didn’t have, helped me so much," said Coreen. "I know that every day we have a choice and my choice is to focus on what I have. I am so lucky to be able to do this. I am forever grateful for the coping skills I learned. I am functioning, but as a new and improved model!"