Dysphagia Patient’s Rehabilitation Gets Him Back to Living
Robert (Bob) Lehman, of Bellefonte, recently celebrated 50 years of marriage with his wife, Alice. Together, they have been through a lot, including Lehman’s recent hospitalizations and rehabilitation, for conditions related to speech, swallowing and breathing. Twice Lehman needed a high dose of rehabilitation. “This is my second stay at HealthSouth, after five hospitalizations,” says Lehman. “I chose HealthSouth both times that I needed rehab because they get you back on your feet again.”
Lehman initially came to HealthSouth Nittany Valley after a hospitalization for a progressive condition that affected his speech and his swallowing, a condition called dysphagia. Because he could not safely eat, Bob also had a PEG tube. PEG, or percutaneous endoscopic gastronomy, is a medical procedure in which a PEG tube is passed into a patient’s stomach through the abdominal wall to provide a means of feeding when eating and swallowing is difficult.
“When I was discharged from Mount Nittany Medical Center, I went to HealthSouth to get strong again,” Lehman says. His rehabilitation goals were not only to get strong, but to re-learn how to safely eat and swallow. “He worked hard in therapy to get strong again and go home,” says his wife, Alice. “After two weeks at HealthSouth, he got his ‘happy feet,’ and came home.”
Although Lehman was strong enough to go home, he still had the PEG tube and was eager to continue his therapy on an outpatient basis, so that he could eat and swallow on his own again. He transitioned from inpatient to outpatient speech therapy at HealthSouth’s Pleasant Gap Outpatient Clinic to continue making gains with his therapy. “I wanted that PEG tube out of me as soon as possible,” Lehman says.
HealthSouth Speech-language Pathologist Linda Meyer, MS, CCC-SLP/L, provided outpatient speech therapy to help Bob learn how to eat and swallow safely. “We work closely with our dietary department, so that the patient gets the exact texture of food that they need to start safely and effectively eating and practicing the swallowing function again,” says Meyer.
Lehman’s speech therapy also included the use of technology called VitalStim®. VitalStim® therapy uses a specialized form of neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) designed to treat patients with dysphagia. It is a non-invasive therapy that re-educates the throat muscles needed for swallowing. Electrodes are placed over the muscles of the throat that promote swallowing, while the speech-language therapist works with the patient on exercises designed to improve safe eating and swallowing. Sessions are typically three times a week and continue until the patient’s swallowing patterns have been restored to the optimum level.
“Patients with dysphagia can experience a drastic change in the quality of their lives,” says Meyer. “The loss of swallowing can also lead to depression as patients lose some of their normal ways of life.” Dysphagia is prevalent in many neurological conditions, including stroke, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
When Lehman started outpatient speech therapy, he was getting all of his nutrition through the PEG tube. By the time he was discharged from outpatient therapy, he was able to eat/swallow at a very high level, and he was eventually able to have the PEG tube removed. “That’s really a wonderful accomplishment,” says Meyer. “Some people are not able to get to that level.”
“I am enjoying food again, including my wife’s good cooking,” Lehman says. “The first time I was able to go out to a restaurant and eat normally was very special. You take that for granted, until you can’t do it anymore. I’m grateful to be enjoying food and the normal, social part of eating again.”
Speech therapy is more than just helping people speak more effectively. Speech therapy also works on cognitive functions, like word retrieval and writing to express oneself, as well as dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing. For more information about speech therapy, contact HealthSouth Speech-language Pathologist Linda Meyer, MS, CCC-SLP/L at (814) 359-3421.