William's Story

William Marshall sits in a chair after rehabilitation.

William Marshall, a retiree and married to his husband of 50 years, Augustin, filled his days reading, swimming, cooking and spending time with his loved ones. However, he found himself confronting a series of daunting health issues related to treatment for throat cancer, heart issues, diabetes and infections. As his health declined, William faced multiple hospital admissions and procedures.

After an initial acute care hospitalization for complications from pneumonia and while recovering from cancer surgery and radiation, William encountered cascading issues ranging from chronic respiratory failure to infection and irregular heartbeat. After stabilizing, William transferred to West Gables Rehabilitation Hospital to focus on recovery.

There, William’s physician-led team assessed his condition and crafted a personalized plan to help him regain strength and mobility. William admitted with a tracheostomy, an opening in his windpipe to help him breathe. He was also receiving additional oxygen through a tube under his nose.

One of the first things William’s respiratory team worked on was capping his tracheostomy. In this gradual process, William relied less and less on the opening in his windpipe as he built his tolerance and ability to breathe on his own. After a month, he progressed to no longer needing supplemental oxygen and keeping his tracheostomy capped. After a month of therapy, his tracheostomy was removed and he was breathing independently.

Physical therapy (PT) focused on William’s mobility. Initially, he required full assistance to stand and walk but after leg strengthening exercises in therapy, he was soon back on his feet and using a rolling walker. As his therapy progressed, William relied on less assistance over longer distances. His stamina also increased, and with that, PT focused on body mechanics — William’s footsteps and balance. They directed him around obstacles and over hurdles, walking indoors and outdoors, picking up objects from the floor and going up and down stairs. PT also employed Blaze pods -- flashing lights for reflex training. The lights are placed at varied heights and distances prompting the patient to focus on weight shifting and balance.

Occupational therapy (OT) addressed William’s endurance, mobility, balance, body strength and transfer ability. They started by showing him energy conservation techniques to push past fatigue that would limit his progress. Activities in therapy included using his rolling walker and a reacher to grab objects while safely keeping control over both pieces of equipment; marching and squatting exercises and exercising on the Nustep therapy machine which is similar to a seated elliptical.

Meantime, speech therapy (ST) addressed William’s swallowing issues. Initially, all liquids and nutrition were being delivered to his stomach via a feeding tube. His cancer treatments deemed it unsafe to eat or swallow liquids by mouth. ST conducted daily swallowing trials with ice chips to exercise William’s throat muscles. They also used a strength trainer device which works the muscles used to breathe forcefully, cough and/or swallow. William has shown progress in swallowing, and continues to work toward his goal of returning to eat and drink by mouth. 

After a month at West Gables, William was breathing and walking independently, and looked forward to returning home. Reflecting on his experience, he offers advice to others facing similar challenges: "Try, try, try, and keep putting yourself to it!"