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Patient’s Continuing Improvements Inspire All Around Her

Patient’s Continuing Improvements Inspire All Around Her

Patient’s Continuing Improvements Inspire All Around Her

Just days before the end of Gretchen’s study abroad program in Paris–two months away from her high school graduation–she experienced a food allergy reaction that changed the course of her life. Gretchen and her family have always been vigilant about her seafood allergy since she was a toddler, but on April 6, 2018, Gretchen went to lunch with her travel group and ate something that caused her to feel ill. She walked with her group to a pharmacy looking for relief from her allergic reaction, where she started having trouble breathing, and an ambulance was called by the pharmacist. Although she was briefly conscious and talking as the ambulance arrived, Gretchen ultimately suffered a cardiac arrest due to the anaphylactic shock at the pharmacy.  Her condition was further complicated by a bronchial spasm, and she became anoxic for about 4 minutes on the way to the hospital with the paramedics.  

Gretchen’s father, Edward, received the horrific phone call from her teacher on his way to work and immediately booked a flight to Paris, but Gretchen was already intubated, surrounded by beeping medical devices, and unconscious in ICU when he arrived.  “She was completely unresponsive and appeared lifeless in the hospital bed, and her face was so puffed up,” Edward recalls. Gretchen’s mom, Amy, who arrived at the hospital a day later, explained, “Her condition was believed to have been caused by the anaphylactic shock due to a food allergy that triggered the cardiac arrest according to the Parisian hospital’s records. Her heart had stopped, and after defibrillation, she further suffered bronchial spasm and was anoxic for over 4 minutes.”

CNS Patient Gretchen in the therapy poolThis Incident Started the Now 5-Year Journey of Recovery

After 3 weeks in the Parisian hospital, Gretchen was medically evacuated to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. After her discharge from Cedars-Sinai’s ICU, she was transported to Kentfield Rehabilitation Hospital in Northern California, where her family eventually learned about the Centre for Neuro Skills (CNS) from the lead neurologist.

Upon arriving at CNS in February of 2019, Gretchen was diagnosed with anoxic brain damage, quadriparesis with severe deformities in all her extremities. She was minimally functioning with deficits in speech, cognitive communication, executive functions, and mobility. She also had calcification and extremely painful heterotopic ossification of her muscles and left hip, which made her dependent on full-time personal assistance for daily living, a wheelchair and in need of continuous supervision. Her CNS journey started in Bakersfield, which handles more complex medical cases. Her personalized rehabilitation program included counseling, education therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy. After a year, she was transferred to the Los Angeles facility of CNS as an outpatient. 

Gretchen’s Journey Continues and is Making Significant Improvements Every Day

Morgan Cohen, Gretchen’s Speech Pathologist, remembers when she started working with Gretchen. “Her first goal at CNS was reliably responding yes or no to a question,” said Morgan. “We didn’t mind if it was accurate, we just wanted to get her to respond. She eventually met that goal.”

CNS patient Gretchen in art therapyShortly after, Gretchen began to flourish and started knocking out goals one after the other. Some of these successes were her ability to communicate her needs like using the restroom, if she was hungry or thirsty, or if she was in pain. Additionally, Gretchen started using a make-shift keyboard made of cardboard with alphabets in straight alphabetical orders to help her spell out words to help her communicate. When it was ultimately discovered that Gretchen could spell out words quicker with the keyboard laid-out in the typewriter “QWERTY” format, her communication ability sky-rocketed. Morgan remembered this being a celebratory moment. 

Gretchen’s inspiration for getting off the feeding tube were Fiery Hot Cheetos and Trix cereal. Now she eats solid foods and helps plan her own meals, as well as enjoying going to eat at restaurants with her family.  She has also finished the Cognition Module, which includes six levels of a description task that challenges different thinking skills and reaction time.

“We’re all so proud of her,” said Morgan. “Going from being so isolated and not being able to engage with her surroundings to now being one of the most popular patients in the clinic is amazing. She’s the spirit of what CNS is, it’s the spirit of progress and persistence. She’s worked so hard and is still making amazing gains years after her brain injury.”

Today, Gretchen is redeveloping her socialization skills with her peers, and slowly learning how to initiate a conversation again. Gretchen was 17 years old when she last interacted with her friends, and now, she’s adjusting to her new lifestyle at 22 years old. Gretchen is looking forward to attending a speech pathologist-led learning course at Mt. San Antonio Community College this fall.