Meridian Nursing Center resident Pauline Clark, 77, sat in a wheelchair last week and smiled as she grabbed the arm of the woman sitting next to her.
A year ago, the simple squeeze on her physical therapist's arm wouldn't have been possible.
In December of 1989, Clark was struck with a neurological disorder, Chronic Inflammatory Demyelineating Polyneuropothy. The disease, which attacks the nervous system, rendered her a paraplegic.
Clark,a retired deputy clerk was sent to Holy Cross, a rehabilitation center in Washington to have her blood "flushed." As the condition weakened her, Clark began losing strength in her arms.
Growing more tired and weak with the passing days, Clark was moved to the Severna Parknursing center in April of last year. She began physical therapy almost immediately.
Cathy Rommel, a physical therapist at Meridian has spent the past year with Clark, helping her to recover from the degenerative disease.
Clark has made enormous progress . The quiet, pleasant woman who was too weak to stand is now walking about 70 feet with the aid of a walker.
"She's my star pupil," said Rommel.
"I was so weak I couldn't even make a fist. They called me a 'feeder,'" recalled Clark, referring to the term nurses use for residents whoare too weak to feed themselves.
For the first few weeks, Rommel helped Clark perform physical therapy exercises in her bed. To help Clark achieve goals, such as feeding herself, assistant occupational therapist Amy Hubbard began working with her two days a week.
Part of Hubbard's job is helping the residents become more independent. Because Clark had little grip, Hubbard fitted her with a "universal cuff," a band that fits over the hand and holds an eating utensil.
Progress was tough and slow. Clark was unable to raise her arms over her head for two months. But her strength improved. With help, Clark was able to get out of bed to attend physical therapy sessions in the therapy room.
"She came in every day, exercised on the mat and used roller skates (to improve her leg strength,)" said Rommel. Roller skates are padded boards with four wheels attached to the corners. Residents strap the skates onto the leg and move the leg horizontally toimprove strength.
"I tried really hard but poor Cathy (Rommel), Ifussed at her so much," said Clark, eyeing Rommel and smiling.
Bythe fourth month, Clark was getting frustrated. Hubbard had helped Clark use adaptive equipment to assist with self-care, but all Clark really wanted to do was walk. Since Clark was no longer making significant advances, Hubbard and Rommel backed off. But, after a short break, Clark was again determined to continue.
By last October, Clark found herself walking again.
"She still couldn't get (out of the wheelchair by herself) and she was only walking eight to 10 feet," recalled Rommel.
"She's so motivated about everything and you can tell she's really excited about making gains," said Hubbard.
Within the past few months, Clark has moved farther and farther away from herwheelchair. These days she is likely to clear 70 feet.
Hubbard and Rommel expect Clark to be finished with therapy in two months. "Butwhat will we do without her?" said Rommel. Clark smiled and said shewill visit.