When Melanie Smith was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease while still
only in her 30s, she was understandably shocked by the news.
“I was very much in denial,” says the now 43-year-old St. Simons
Island resident. “Accepting such an unexpected and life-altering
diagnosis was a battle for me.”
Gradually, the disease began to affect her balance, walking and ability
to carry out daily tasks — like brushing her hair or opening a car door.
In 2019, Ms. Smith could no longer endure the increased severity of her
symptoms. Determined to become as healthy as possible for herself and
her young son, she turned to the experienced, licensed therapists at the
Southeast Georgia Health System
Outpatient Rehabilitation Care Center.
“They gave me hope and confidence,” Ms. Smith says of her rehabilitation
therapy team, which included physical therapist Lisa St. Pierre, P.T., and
occupational therapist Luis Paucar, OTR/L, MBA.
Ms. St. Pierre showed Ms. Smith ways to improve her balance and core strength
so she could better control her movements. While
physical therapy cannot cure Parkinson’s, it can help make the condition more manageable.
The goal was to improve Ms. Smith’s functional mobility, allowing
her to complete daily tasks.
“Melanie still has tremors, but through
occupational therapy she learned techniques to help her better tolerate the challenges and
movement difficulties caused by Parkinson’s,” says Ms. St. Pierre.
Mr. Paucar helped Ms. Smith with the fine-motor skills she lost due to
Parkinson’s, skills that she needs for daily tasks, such as writing,
brushing her teeth and opening prescription medications.
“We worked on improving her endurance, since Parkinson’s can
cause fatigue, so that she has the strength and stamina to perform daily
tasks,” explains Mr. Paucar.
In addition, he provided education on devices that make daily living easier
and safer for Ms. Smith, such as utensils with special handles for eating.
After a few weeks of therapy and commitment to exercise, Ms. Smith began
to see results. “I have the strength to turn over in bed, which
I didn’t have before,” she says. “I can now do a yoga
pose and keep my balance. And I can grab things better.”
Ms. Smith says her therapists were fun, compassionate and “knew exactly
what they were doing.”
They taught her exercises to continue at home after her sessions ended.
What’s more, since the Health System offers
Outpatient Rehabilitation Care Centers in five locations, including St. Simons Island, she didn’t have
to drive far to see them.
“I was able to stay on St. Simons Island to get the help I needed
to start feeling whole again,” she says.
“We provide the best possible care to our patients — whether
it’s a weekend warrior athlete, joint replacement patient or someone
with a significant neurological diagnosis, like Parkinson’s disease,
multiple sclerosis or stroke,” says Paul Trumbull, P.T., MBA, director
of Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Services.