During a party to celebrate her 17th birthday, Grace Fisher suddenly was overcome by pain in her neck and tingling in her hands. Within minutes, upon arrival at the hospital, Grace lost the use of her legs. The growing weakness progressed over the next several hours. By nightfall Grace was intubated, required mechanical ventilator support to breathe, and now had total loss of her ability to move. Later, Grace was diagnosed with Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM).
Before AFM, life for Grace was that of a typical busy high school senior. She woke up at 6:00 AM to play the guitar for an hour before getting ready and heading to school. Her afternoons were filled with voice lessons, dance practices, teaching music classes, and practicing the cello and piano. Grace was looking forward to following her dreams of enrolling at the Berklee Colle of Music in Boston and pursuing a Guitar Performance and Music Business Degree.
In December 2014, AFM changed Grace’s life. She spent five weeks in the ICU, before transferring to Craig Hospital in Denver, Colorado where she first started her rehabilitative therapy. After months in hospitals and an in-patient rehabilitation center, Grace returned home to Santa Barbara and began her home rehab therapy with Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care: Leslie Lannan, VNHC Occupational Therapist and Rob Sparrow, VNHC Physical Therapist. Grace’s goal: “To be as independent as I can be.”
Grace was “so bummed ” to leave Colorado. She thought, “There’s no way I’m ever going to find therapists that I like more than my current therapist.” But now, “I love Rob and Leslie so much. They helped me become comfortable in my own skin and with my new accessories.”
When Leslie met Grace she thought, “Here’s a girl who has her whole life ahead of her and we are able to give her a push.” For Leslie, occupational therapy is the art and science of living. When working with her patients, Leslie concentrates on a patient’s ability to perform the broad range of everyday life activities.
Rob’s strategy for physical therapy is to learn each person’s story and recognize that each patient is unique. “The goals of physical therapy should be personal, specific, and appropriate,” commented Rob. “This makes the therapy more self-inspiring.” Coincidentally, Grace’s parents, Bill and Debbie Fisher, are physical therapists. They could be Grace’s therapists, but they recognized the challenges of being both parents and caregivers. “I feel like they’ve [Rob and Leslie] done a good job acknowledging that [challenge] and stepping forward to assert their authority to help Grace become as independent as possible,” Debbie shared.
When Grace first came home, she wasn’t driving her own chair, even though it was this incredible wheelchair. Leslie said, “We’re going to go for a drive around the block. You’re going to drive yourself into the van.”Now, Grace drives herself into and out of the van.
“They think outside of the box,” Debbie continued. “Occupational therapy is not just helping somebody get into the bathroom and take a shower. It could be ‘let’s try to use this adaptive piece of equipment so Grace can use the computer, facilitating the gap in getting her in school.”‘
Before AFM, Grace played music, sang, and danced. After AFM, Grace realized she can compose music and continue to feed her musical passion. Through rehab therapy, Grace learned to use a QuadJoy, a mouth operated mouse which is essentially shaped like a straw. This tool provides Grace the ability to connect with a computer so she can create and compose art, blogs, and music.
Art and music have been positive outlets for Grace and have continued to support her mantra of living in the moment in order to find the light. “My days, they were really tough,” Grace said. “When I can take an hour out of the day … to paint or do music …I can relax and de-stress myself.”
Over time, Grace realized that while she has AFM, her family has been dealing with the effects of AFM. It has affected her family equally but differently. In the first days, there was a tremendous amount of sadness and pity, and the family had to recognize that life wasn’t going to be as it was.