HEALTH 2019: Child born with 16 birth defects, stroke survivor give thanks to these healthcare super heroes

Published 11:48 pm Saturday, April 27, 2019


NATCHEZ — The road to rehabilitation for many patients with injuries or limitations is not a solitary journey.

Along with doctors, nurses and other medical staff, the journey is often joined by physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists, who help patients take the gradual steps toward an improved quality of life.

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From a 3-year-old learning to walk for the first time to an 84-year-old stroke survivor relearning how to speak, licensed therapists treat patients of all ages and who have a variety of diagnoses.

For many of those patients, therapy is life-changing.

“It has been amazing,” Brandi King said.

Thursday morning, King watched as occupational therapist Brittany Smith and speech-language pathologist Amy James encouraged her 3-year-old daughter, Anaysia, to use her feet to scoot across the floor on a toy car.

Just a few years ago, the thought of Anaysia using her hands and feet would have been unthinkable without the services offered by the Smith, James and other therapists.

“Anaysia was born with 16 birth defects,” Brandi said. “So far she has had five surgeries with more surgeries planned.”

The 3-year-old was born with Pierre Robin Syndrome, a congenital condition that often includes developmental malformations, including a smaller-than-normal jaw, a cleft palate and other anomalies.

Smith, James and other therapists from Merit Health Natchez’s outpatient clinic have worked with Anaysia since she was 11-months old.

“When we first started seeing her, she couldn’t sit up, she couldn’t hold her head up,” James said.

Unable to clear her airways from mucus and other secretions, Anaysia required constant suctioning.

More than two years later, Anaysia now sits up on her own and is beginning to talk, James said.

“Now she is starting to take things by mouth, and she doesn’t have to be suctioned at all,” James said.

Born with clubfeet, Anaysia has had two surgeries — the most recent on Feb. 15 — to correct the condition.

Thursday, Anaysia laughed as she used her feet to push herself across the floor with encouragement from Smith and James.

“Now she is talking, singing and dancing,” Smith said.

For Brandi, her daughter’s improvement has been gradual but no less remarkable. She is optimistic about the future.

“My hope for her is that she will be able to do things with her arms on her own and that she will be able to help herself more than we help her,” Brandi said.

James and Smith said Brandi’s goals for her daughter are “doable.” The current goal, James said, is for Anaysia to eat and swallow.

“Right now she is being fed through a (feeding tube). Our major goal is to get the tube out,” James said.

Merit Health physical therapist and Director of Therapy Services Michelle Kaiser said Anaysia has many successes ahead of her, some that may have seemed impossible when she was born.

“I think she has the potential to walk with increased flexibility and strength in her hips and legs,” Kaiser said.

For 84-year-old Jerry David, the road to recovery is no less remarkable.

On April 11, David suffered a stroke while cooking breakfast for one of his sons at his house. David had suffered a stroke before and knew the symptoms.

“I felt kind of funny and felt like I was going to pass out,” David said.

After spending several days in Merit Health’s telemetry unit, David moved to the hospital’s inpatient rehabilitation unit on the hospital’s fifth floor.

The inpatient unit is for individuals who need intensive therapies with daily supervision by a physician and 24-hour rehabilitative nursing care.

Merit Health Natchez is the only facility within 90 miles that offers inpatient rehabilitation services, which is essential to those who want to stay near home and family, Kaiser said.

For the next several days, David worked with therapists to relearn how to walk, speak and most importantly perform daily activities, like cooking the gumbo and other Cajun dishes that have made him famous.

“I wouldn’t say that I am the best gumbo cooker around, but I think I am,” David said with a laugh. “Everybody that sees me wants to know when I am cooking my next pot of gumbo.”

“I am the gumbo man,” David said.

Unlike his first stroke that affected most of the left side of his body, the second stroke largely affected his speech, Kaiser said.

Speech-language pathologist Sean Snapp said David’s speech was very difficult to understand at first.

Measuring how much David’s speech could be understood, Snapp said his initial speech intelligibility was 40 percent.

Some of that was partly due to David’s thick Cajun accent, Snapp said. With encouraging David to talk more slowly and emphasize individual syllables, David’s intelligibility was at 90 percent the day before David was set to leave the hospital.

“It is huge progress,” Snapp said.

After leaving the hospital, David will continue to work on an outpatient basis to reach 100 percent intelligibility, Snapp said.

Along with speech therapy, occupational therapist Amber Graves and physical therapist Beth Gillespie worked with David to improve coordination and work on standing and strengthening his upper body.

As a certified occupational therapy assistant, Graves helps patients with learning and relearning how to perform daily activities, such as cooking, bathing and putting on clothes.

“At first Mr. David required assistance with dressing,” Graves said. “Now he does it by himself.”

David was scheduled to go home Friday and was ready to get back to cooking in his kitchen, thanks to the therapy he has received.

“I am about the best I could ever be,” David said.