Gaining Ground: Suzanne’s Story

As a marathon runner, Suzanne Marsh was used to dealing with pain. So the attorney and mother of three pretty much ignored the back pain she felt in 2015, until her legs became weak and numb. She knew then she needed to get help.

Tests confirmed a tumor had grown on her spine. After two surgeries and six weeks of radiation treatments, Suzanne thought she was out of the woods. She spent three and a half weeks at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital getting her strength back. When she left, she was walking with a walker. With continued outpatient PT she was able to progress to crutches and then a cane. At times, she was able to walk independently. She was pleased with her recovery.  

“I was so anxious to get outside and enjoy exercise again,” says the Lower Merion resident. “I bought a recumbent bike and we started riding together as a family.”

But four months later, Suzanne became weaker and soon, she was back in physical therapy. Despite her hard work, she needed the assistance of a walker again and, eventually, a wheelchair to move around. “I had developed radiation myelitis,” she explains. “An extremely rare side effect from radiation therapy. It was really difficult to deal with this news. I never thought this could happen to me.”

“I just wanted to sweat again.”

Suzanne was at Magee for an outpatient physician visit when she read about the Gaining Ground program at Magee’s Riverfront location in South Philadelphia. She was immediately interested.

Gaining Ground is an intensive, specialized exercise program for individuals with neurological injuries. The four to six-week program is five hours a day, three days a week. Participants receive one-to-one therapy from a physical therapist and a personal trainer. Group sessions bring everyone together to share successes and challenges and a weekly education session provides tips for practical living with a disability.

“The program sounded amazing!” she recalls.  “As a person who loves to exercise, I needed to feel strong and sweat again. I was also attracted to the emotional and mental part of the program.  I wanted to connect with others who were in the same situation as me.”

Reach your personal goals

“Getting back to living your life on your terms is what this program is all about,” explains physical therapist Elizabeth Watson. “We give participants tools to increase their strength and improve function, using equipment such as the Ekso Exoskeleton and the Lokomat, while the weekly guest speakers educate on topics such as traveling with a wheelchair or nutrition. Other program benefits include decreased pain and medication use, increased sensation and improved posture and trunk control. We support each person in helping him or her attain their personal goals.”

“The program was really individualized to my needs,” recounts Suzanne. “What I needed was different from what others needed. And, Liz and Ian were amazing! They were kind and helpful and just made us laugh while still doing something beneficial. My goal was to improve my upper body strength and Gaining Ground helped me do that. I’m hoping to get a hand bike to get back to exercising with my family.”

Suzanne has since joined Magee’s Wellness Program, also offered at the Riverfront. She felt a community gym would have been too much for her, whereas the supportive environment at the Riverfront makes exercise comfortable and helps her to achieve her goals.

“The Wellness Program is perfect for me. Nothing is too much trouble for the staff at Magee. When I’m there, it’s the best part of my day.”

To learn more about Gaining Ground, click here.

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