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Katie Lee

From Provider to Patient

Katie Lee

“Now, I completely understand how REALLY tired a rehab patient can get,” recalls WakeMed Rehabilitation Speech Therapist Katie Lee, MS, CCC-SLP, after a rare condition transformed her from caregiver to patient.

It was a Friday morning in September 2014 and Katie was working on swallowing with a patient when she was hit with sudden back pain. “It was intense, binding pain in my mid-back that circled around my body,” she explains. Katie quickly excused herself and went back to the Speech office where she collapsed. She called her supervisor who helped her get to Occupational Health Services. Soon after her arrival in Occupational Health, Katie’s right leg went totally numb.

By the time Katie was admitted to a room, she had also lost some sensory ability as well as bladder and bowel function. Katie was absolutely terrified, especially because she had a 5-month-old baby at home.

Tests revealed that Katie had transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord. Physicians began treating her with intravenous steroids, therapy services were initiated and she soon found herself in the WakeMed Rehabilitation Spinal Cord Injury Unit.

“My gosh – to be on the other side – patient instead of provider – was eye opening,” says Katie. Like most patients on the Spinal Cord Injury Unit, Katie endured three hours of therapy, five to seven days a week. As is the practice with all patients, she and her therapy team set goals that were unique to her, such as being able to hold her baby girl and walking with her in a stroller.

Katie Lee

Two weeks passed then finally, a breakthrough. “I woke up one day and I could wiggle my toes,” recalls Katie. Her therapists soon had her practicing standing and walking with the use of Vector technology. They also weighted a doll to simulate her baby. With her “baby”, she could practice lifting a child and pushing her in a stroller.

After four weeks in the hospital, Katie was ready to go home. “I left the hospital in a wheelchair and I never sat in it again,” recalls Katie. She quickly enrolled in WakeMed Rehab’s Day Treatment Program and continued her therapy on an outpatient basis. On December 7, 2014, she returned to work full-time.

Today, Katie’s daughter is almost two years old and Katie can just about run after her. “It is simply impossible to put into words how thankful I am for the outstanding care and outpouring of support I received from WakeMed through the entire continuum,” says Katie. “Without that, I would not be back at work, walking and, most of all, being an active mother to my Parks.”