Donna's Story

Donna smiling and standing outside in front of a wooden fence.

Donna Clark was born and raised in Indiana and moved to El Paso in 1985 for her husband Ronald’s job. They moved to the north Texas region after her and Ronald retired. She previously worked for a travel company and Ronald worked for the Ford Motor Company. The couple, now married for 56 years, decided to move closer to family to be more involved in their lives and help out with their grandchildren. They also wanted to get more involved with hobbies like gardening.

Over the past two years, Donna started having intense sciatic nerve pain, which radiated from her lower back. It began impacting her daily activities. She tried injections and therapy but nothing seemed to alleviate the pain that she would endure for several hours after waking each morning. Donna said the excruciating pain impacted her ability to bend, travel in the car, walk or even sit down and eat a meal. Only mild relief could be found lying down and applying an ice pack. Donna explained that whenever she had any appointments in the morning, she had to plan her day to rise early enough to allow the pain to subside so she could tolerate activities such as driving in the car. Eventually it became too much and Donna decided surgery was the best option.

She underwent elective surgery at Texas Health Presbyterian for spinal fusion due to a severe sideways curve in her lower spine. The surgery also worked to correct the narrowing of the spinal canal and compression of spinal nerves. Following surgery, her doctor recommended inpatient rehabilitation at Select Rehabilitation Hospital of Denton, where she would receive care from a physician-led team of clinicians who created a plan to improve strength, manage pain and improve functional mobility.

During her stay, Donna’s occupational therapists focused on helping her with pain management and increased independence in basic daily tasks such as transferring from one surface to another, and taking care of herself following her surgery. Her therapy team also incorporated standing activities while performing daily tasks such as walking with the rolling walker. The team also spent time educating Donna on safety awareness. At first, Donna required significant assistance from the clinicians especially with bathing and dressing. But as time went on, her independence increased in all self-care tasks.

Donna's physical therapy sessions focused on addressing core strength and stability and walking without her walker. The therapy team had Donna perform back strengthening exercises, standing in the parallel bars for balance and walking while navigating around cones. Donna wore a special brace used to stabilize the spine after surgery, and the team trained her how to put it on for treatments to ensure safety.

Donna spoke highly of her therapy team saying, "I felt that everything they did helped me in some way. They praised me when I did well, and also told me what I needed to work on in a kind and gentle way.”

After a six-day stay, Donna could independently perform daily living tasks, walk without any assistive devices and go up and down 12 steps.  As she headed home, Donna said, “I look forward to my life getting back to normal after living with pain for two years, knowing I can get up and do exactly what I want to do without pain, babysitting my grandson and working in my flower garden.”