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Inpatient physical therapy brings coma patient home

Matthew Malley is pushed in a wheelchair down a hospital hallway, surrounded by staff clapping, cheering, and offering sentiments of support.
Matthew Malley's triumphant discharge after his lengthy hospital stay

After more than a year in the hospital, Matthew Malley is finally home with his family.

Matthew Malley spent 473 days at North Shore University Hospital (NSUH) for seizures, brain surgery and repeated bouts of pneumonia. After a lengthy and fearless battle, this husband and father of two was ready for the inpatient physical rehabilitation program at Glen Cove Hospital that would finally allow him to return home.

In 2016, Mr. Malley became ill with flu-like symptoms, experienced a seizure and went into a coma. After a lengthy recovery and much time spent in the hospital, he entered rehabilitation with a number of challenges, including severe frozen shoulders; limited range of motion; loss of balance; problems with speech and swallowing; and decreased lung function requiring him to use an oxygen ventilator.

Physical therapy with Shaina Flanzraich, PT, in Glen Cove’s acute inpatient rehabilitation program helped him regain his stamina and balance and improved his breathing; he no longer requires supplemental oxygen. In addition, occupational therapy helped him to better perform daily activities like showering and dressing. He also received therapy for his speech and swallowing difficulties. 

During his six-week stay in acute inpatient rehabilitation — he left in March 2018 — Mr. Malley was able to spend quality time with his family. In fact, his kids sometimes participated in the physical and occupational therapy sessions. The family also frequently had meals together and celebrated Valentine’s Day at Glen Cove Hospital. Even Murphy, the family dog, would visit him on occasion.

“It meant so much to me to be able to involve Mr. Malley’s family in our therapy sessions,” said Ms. Flanzraich. “He lit up around them. It was an honor to help him return home to his family.”

Today, Mr. Malley attends outpatient physical and occupational therapy with the goal of walking farther distances and for longer periods of time. Since returning home, he’s also met one of his personal goals — to attend his daughter’s First Communion. He was able to walk up to the altar, and instead of holding onto a walker, he was holding his wife’s hand. 

Assistance and education for those with long-term illnesses

Coping with long-term illness goes beyond managing symptoms to maintaining quality of life. Serious considerations include independence, companionship, mental health, spirituality and more.

Palliative care addresses these needs holistically for anyone with a life-limiting illness, even when complete recovery is possible.

“More than anything, our palliative care team advocates for you and your family. Whatever your goals are, we help make them possible,” said Tara Liberman, DO, Northwell Health’s associate chief of geriatric and palliative care. She added that priorities can include managing symptoms, psychosocial support, navigating medical services and other matters.

Studies show that individuals enjoy a higher quality of life when they begin palliative care during the early stages of illness, according to Dr. Liberman. That’s a relief not only for the person who is sick but also to loved ones.

Hospice care is different from palliative care, though the specialties can be closely connected. Hospice care serves anyone whose life expectancy is six months or fewer, and it stresses maximizing comfort and dignity rather
than curing illness. Hospice nurses and home health aides also educate family members about effective, compassionate ways to administer care. The same families can receive grief support for up to 15 months after the loss of a loved one.

“Hospice is a wonderful resource for patients and their loved ones,” Dr. Liberman said. “During a difficult time, it shows them that they’re not alone.”

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