Jennifer Balzer, 54, went to the hospital for a routine ovarian cyst removal. However, things didn’t go as planned and she soon found herself fighting for her life.
Prior to the surgery, Jen enjoyed spending time with her husband Tim and family. Every Sunday her kids, their spouses, and her grandchildren would gather for a cookout. Jen also kept herself busy working as a human resources manager at Walmart, crafting and tending to 10 acres of land, garden vegetables, flowers, chickens, bees and two dogs.
The day of her surgery, Jen went to the hospital thinking she’d be home in no time. Unfortunately, that was not the case. During the procedure, Jen’s bowel was perforated, causing sepsis. What followed was multiple abdominal surgeries, a wound vac (vacuum-assisted wound closure) for her abdominal incision and respiratory arrest. She was sedated and required ventilator support with a tracheostomy placed. For the next month, Jen remained in the hospital.
Once stabilized, Jen was transferred to Regency Hospital Cleveland West to continue recovering from her surgeries and liberate from ventilator. While there, she accomplished her primary goal of returning to independent breathing. Working with respiratory therapists, she stepped down to lower ventilator settings before the machine was removed. Later, her stamina progressed enough to have airway support removed.
Physical and occupational therapists began a mobility program, assisting Jen as she sat at the bed’s edge, stood with walker and built strength to care for herself again. She worked with a speech language pathologist to improve her ability to speak and swallow clear liquids.
The wound care team tended Jen’s abdominal incision, ensuring it began closing. In time, the wound vac was removed. Jen spoke about her positive experience saying, “If you ever find yourself needing the services they offer, the positivity the staff offers is amazing.”
Approximately four weeks later, Jen was ready for the next step in her recovery and transferred to Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation Hospital, Edwin Shaw. When she arrived, she was fully dependent for walking and most daily tasks. Jen’s goals included being able to walk again, perform daily activities on her own and return home.
Jen said when she first arrived at Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation Hospital, Edwin Shaw, she was unable to shower or put her own glasses on without assistance and required two people to partially stand in order to pull up her pants. Occupational therapists had Jen perform strengthening exercises, balance activities and practiced repeated dressing and bathing in order to become more independent over time. Jen also enjoyed being able to go outdoors for fresh air and begin crafting again. Once a week, her occupational therapist would include a craft for her as part of her exercises. She shared, “The crafting, while it is therapy, doesn’t feel like therapy.”
During her physical therapy evaluation, Jen required the assistance of two people to stand in the parallel bars and once standing, she could only endure five seconds due to weakness, fatigue and discomfort. With safety at the forefront, therapists used a wooden board for Jen to transfer from one surface to the next. This also required the assistance of two people. Jen was very motivated to participate in physical therapy and to get back on her feet. She used a seated stepping machine to increase strength and endurance and continued to perform stands in the parallel bars until she built up enough strength to stand with a walker and minimal assistance. After building up her leg strength, Jen began walking short distances with the walker then progressed to walking over 200 feet. Jen said her “ah-ha” moment was “taking those first steps in the parallel bars.” Then she set her next goal of walking up and down the stairs. She started lifting and tapping her foot to a small step in the parallel bars then progressed to walking up and down six stairs, a big achievement.
Upon admission, Jen was on a clear liquid diet and had a feeding tube in her nose that had been in place for more than a month. Within three days of her admission, Jen underwent a swallow x-ray, which revealed it was safe for her to start on a regular diet and thin liquids. Her feeding tube was removed the next day.
Jen talked about how the support from her therapy teams helped get her get better. “The therapists were always upbeat and encouraging and knew what I was capable of even though I didn’t. They pushed me the extra step each day.”
She also talked about how the support of her family helped in her recovery. “Without the support of my family, I wouldn’t have any reason to do this. They are so supportive and have been my rock during recovery. When I got my morning schedule, I sent it to the family member visiting that day so they could come cheer me on during my therapies. They also participated in the family training programs.”
Nearly four weeks after her arrival, Jen discharged home walking and independently performing her daily living activities. “It has exceeded my expectations. I’m doing things I never thought I would be able to do again.” Jen looked forward to the “comforts of home” and hopefully getting back to work in the near future.