Sharil was right when she told me never to underestimate myself.Shannon Brooks, rehabilitation patient
On Nov. 23, 2019, Shannon Brooks was airlifted from Springfield, Vermont, to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire. With Type 1 diabetes with other medical issues, Shannon was experiencing seizures. She spent the better part of the following year drifting in and out of comas and catatonic states.
The immobility of lying in a hospital bed also cost her the capacity to stand on her own. At 56, she wasn’t sure if she would ever walk again.
“I needed a Hoyer lift to get transferred from the hospital bed to a wheelchair,” Shannon recalls. “The original prognosis was not good. I had people in the medical profession tell me I would never recover.”
That’s when Shannon sought a second opinion from Sharil Cass, DPT, NCS, a physical therapist at Cheshire Medical Center and a recognized clinical specialist in neurological physical therapy.
At their first meeting on Oct. 15, 2020, Shannon arrived in the reclining wheelchair, assisted by her sister, Loraine. In her year of hospitalization, Shannon was diagnosed with hydrocephalus and had a shunt inserted in her brain, endured a blood clot, and required a tracheotomy.
“Shannon couldn’t talk much,” recalls Sharil, who has been at Cheshire for 28 years. “She couldn’t sit on the edge of the bed and had stiffness in her joints; she was in rough shape. She had been told by other therapists and doctors that this was the best she would ever get—but I’m never going to be the person to say no.”
With support from Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) Jodi Salomon, Sharil put together a weekly plan for Shannon. Through twice-weekly sessions at Cheshire and additional exercises at home, it was not long before Shannon could sit at the edge of a bed. Within a month, she was able to do squat pivot transfers and moved to an upright manual wheelchair.
“She had such a good sense of humor and a can-do attitude,” Sharil says. “Sometimes, before we meet somebody and review the record, the first impression is ‘wow.’ But I’ve been in this profession long enough to know that can be deceiving. It goes to show that you really have to put aside your preconceived ideas ahead of what could happen.”
At home, Shannon practiced her exercises. In the rehabilitation department, Sharil and Jodi worked with her on plantar flexion, so she could put her feet flat on the floor. By mid-December 2020, it was time to start working on standing. Shannon began walking between the parallel bars with Sharil on Jan. 11, 2021.
“I wasn’t sure I would even get to using a walker,” Shannon says. “They tried a set of leg braces and I was dumbfounded. I had thought, ‘Okay, if I have to use a walker, that’s fine.’ Then it was braces and a walker, and now it’s just braces and sometimes nothing! Sharil was right when she told me never to underestimate myself.”
Shannon continued to make progress, using only her braces for support most of the time. She is able to push a cart at the grocery store, get up and down from a seated position in her garden, and jokes that she is the only person who is thrilled to be able to stand while washing the dishes.
She is grateful for the support of her family and friends and also to Sharil and Jodi for their unwavering belief in the possibility of her recovery. While she is proud of her role in Shannon’s progress, Sharil points to her patient’s determination and positive attitude.
I’m never going to be the person to say no.Sharil Cass, DPT, NCS
“I know it’s my hard work, but to have [Sharil and Jodi] believing in me was amazing,” Shannon says. “I saw a man in a wheelchair at a recent appointment, and I told him to never give up hope, that when things get tough, he should think of me.”
A September PT appointment was expected to be the last for Shannon. Both she and Sharil had mixed feelings about that final meeting. They had developed a camaraderie that comes from accomplishing a shared goal. Shannon gets choked up when talking about her admiration for her physical therapist, while Sharil calls their final professional meeting bittersweet.
“It makes me feel happy and accomplished,” says Sharil, who presented Shannon with flowers and a card at their final session, “but knowing I’m not going to see her much makes me sad. But the goal is for her to say she doesn’t need me anymore. I am very proud of that—and of her.”
Cheshire Medical Center’s Inpatient and Outpatient Rehabilitation departments are always looking for skilled rehabilitation therapists to join our teams as demand in our region grows. Learn more or apply at cheshiremed.org/careers.