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Sweet-sounding success

Woman back on her feet after rehabilitation
Alice Iszler playing piano again after rehabilitation
After around six weeks of rehabilitation at Sanford Health, Alice Iszler is back home and back playing piano at church and in weddings.
  When Alice Iszler arrived at Sanford Health after being diagnosed with a spinal cord condition, the muscle strength in her legs was evaluated at zero to poor, but one of the first things she inquired about had nothing directly to do with her diagnosis.

She wanted to know whether the hospital had
a piano.

“I was basically paralyzed from the waist down, but I had a little movement in my right foot, so I could operate the piano pedal,” Iszler said. “I love music and play piano and organ at church. I knew it would uplift me while I recuperated.”

The music had the intended effect. Iszler’s physical therapist, Michele Dees, said Iszler was one of the most upbeat patients she has had.

“Alice was confident she’d be able to walk again,” Dees said. Iszler was diagnosed with
transverse myelitis. “I learned that one-third of people don’t improve, one-third improve somewhat and one-third improve a lot,” she said. “I was determined to be among those with significant improvement.”

Transverse myelitis is caused by inflammation of the spinal cord. Communication between the spine and the rest of the body can be affected. Iszler, who lives in Big Sky, Mont., woke up one morning in December 2008 unable to walk. She’d had weakness in her legs for a couple of days and had fallen several times.

“I knew something was wrong. I fell at night and couldn’t get up on my own,” she said. “By the next morning, I couldn’t use my legs.”

Iszler went to an area hospital the next day.

“The staff at the hospital in Montana presented me with choices for a rehabilitation facility, and one was Sanford Health,” said Iszler, who is originally from Drake, N.D.

  Dr. Doug Eggert Doug Eggert, MD
She and her husband, Elliot, lived in Minot for 30 years, and their son, Todd, lives near Bismarck. Iszler spent the next month and a half rehabilitating at Sanford Health, with twice-daily physical and occupational therapy sessions.

“Alice’s therapy focused on learning how to do the activities of daily living, with her changed physical condition,” said Renae Peterson, Iszler’s occupational therapist. “That included dressing, using the bathroom and getting in and out of bed. Alice was motivated and had an excellent attitude.”

The rehabilitation team at Sanford Health uses Easy Street to acclimate patients to
real-life settings.

“I didn’t realize how valuable those real-life situations were until I returned home,” Iszler said. “Renae taught me to open a bathroom door while sitting in a wheelchair, get up off a couch, get in and out of a car and make chocolate chip cookies. The therapists helped me do everyday things, like play the piano, when I very much wanted to return to normalcy.”

Since Iszler returned home, she has progressed from a walker to a cane. Her Sanford Health specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, Dr. Douglas Eggert, said Iszler could continue to improve for another year or so with continued work.

“As you age, you lose balance, coordination and strength, so Alice is up against that natural process in addition to her illness,” Dr. Eggert said. “She has made great progress. When I first saw her, she couldn’t get out of or into bed or dress her lower body. By the time she left, she could do those things and walk 35 feet with just standby assistance.”

Among Iszler’s accomplishments since she returned home was playing the organ at church.

“I’m back to playing at weddings, too, which is an absolute high for me,” she said. “I’m very independent, so this has been a humbling experience. I can never thank the Sanford Health staff enough for their kindness, patience and willingness to share their expertise with me.”

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