Inpatient Rehabilitation Program Restores Health

By Barbara Board

When a tiny retired nurse with a hugely swollen arm rolled into Mid-Columbia Medical Center’s outpatient therapy program at Water’s Edge, occupational therapist Leslie Reagan was instantly inspired to help.

“I took one look at her forearm and thought, Oh my gosh, what can I do for this person?,” Reagan remembers.

Barbara Board, who is 72 and stands just under 5 feet tall, had dealt with lymphedema in her left arm for 14 years.“

My arm was as big around as my leg,” recalls Board in a sweet Southern accent derived from her days in Texas and Louisiana.

The lymphedema began a year after she’d had a radical mastectomy and lymph nodes removed to treat breast cancer. It worsened when she fell and tore her rotator cuff and broke a small bone in her shoulder.

She’d initially had some physical therapy in Texas, but it wasn’t until she moved to Mount Hood to live with her daughter and visited MCMC that she began to get results.

Reagan knew Board would need daily treatments to reduce the swelling in her forearm. But Board didn’t have the transportation or mobility to make daily hour-long trips to Water’s Edge, on The Dalles waterfront. So a stay in mPower, MCMC’s inpatient rehabilitation unit, was a much better alternative.

The fact that Board also has degenerative and rheumatoid arthritis, which Reagan learned while interviewing her, qualified her to stay at mPower while Medicare covered the cost.

Reagan, along with massage therapist Freda Wasson — the only therapists in the region certified in lymphedema therapy — began complete decongestive therapy on Board in late May. The effects were immediate.

“You could see the difference on the second day,” Board remembers. Reagan and Wasson massaged Board’s arm, moving the fluid out of the extremity, and then applied moisturizers to her skin before wrapping her arm with a bulky compression bandage, where it remained for 24 hours.

They repeated the treatments for 10 consecutive days, squeezing 20 pounds of fluid out of Board’s body, and returning her arm nearly to its normal size. “I don’t see that degree of lymphedema on a daily basis,” Reagan admits. “It brought a lot of awareness to the nursing staff about it and how we treat it.”

Board was initially referred to Reagan by Providence home health occupational therapist Alison Betzing, because she knew
of Reagan’s expertise in lymphedema therapy.

“The great part was the whole Gorge community coming together to find this care,” says Autumn Moretty-Randall, mPower nursing director.

Board also worked with MCMC physical therapist Janell Wyatt, who helped her stand up straighter, increase the distance she can walk and fitted her with a walker that supports her left arm.

“That fluid was in her arm like a bowling ball, throwing her shoulder out of the socket,” Reagan explains. “She can use her arm now to do things two-handed, where before it just laid to the side.”

Board says her quality of life is much better because her health and self-perception have improved.

“I can’t say enough good about the staff at the rehab unit,” she says. “Everyone did their best to take care of me.”