Elmer Theman's story

Elmer Theman Patient Success Story

Retired NASA engineer Elmer Theman had been home with a fever and labored breathing; his wife Elaine said he was in and out of it. Elmer distinctly remembers getting swabbed in his garage for COVID-19 and has a vague recollection of being hospitalized. “I know I had to be on a ventilator, but it all felt like a dream,” he said.

Elaine brought her 73-year-old husband to SouthWest General Hospital where he tested positive for COVID-19, was placed on a ventilator and given a blend of medications. His medical team also diagnosed a kidney issue, noting it was operating at a less than optimal level.  Elmer was placed on hemodialysis, a treatment that filters blood when the kidneys no longer function effectively.

As days passed, Elmer improved and was liberated from the ventilator, but he still required supplemental oxygen and continued hemodialysis.

Once stabilized, Elmer was transferred to Regency Hospital Cleveland West to continue his kidney treatments and recover from the virus, working to lessen his dependence on supplemental oxygen. Elmer had a more straightforward view of his stay at Regency -- it would allow the father of two to hold his grandchildren again, and enjoy dinners with friends, “I wanted to get back to normal. I was hoping to walk out of the hospital.”

Upon admission to Regency, Elmer needed maximum assistance for any level of mobility.  After an initial assessment, his physician-led interdisciplinary team mapped out a plan to help Elmer regain his prior level of function.

He worked with physical therapy to move his arms and legs and roll from side to side -- movement increases blood flow and oxygen circulation, helping the body’s healing process.  Eventually the team helped him sit up in bed, move to a chair and stand, working on his core strength.  Walking was next. “I was limited by all the [medical] lines, but I worked with therapy to get walking more. I felt stronger every day,” said Elmer.

To build his strength and endurance as well as balance, his therapists had him do an array of repetitive exercises and gait training with a walker.  The team retrained Elmer how to walk while conserving energy.  Other recovery therapy included standing with a weighted bar and executing a range of chest presses – moving the bar forward, overhead and side-to-side, as if churning butter. These sessions helped further build core strength, steadied Elmer on his feet and increased tolerance for activities.

COVID-19 had some lasting effects for Elmer, particularly fatigue and shortness of breath. Occupational therapists taught him to self-pace and conserve energy so he wouldn’t be tired after routine self-care activities like showering and dressing.  As Elmer continued to improve, his supplemental oxygen continued to get dialed back.

Due to COVID-19 visitation restrictions, Elmer couldn’t have visitors, but daily video calls with Elaine and constant encouragement from his care team helped Elmer progress and stay positive.  “I had some dark times and my mind wasn’t into the recovery process. The nursing staff from both hospitals gave me encouragement so that I no longer wanted to give up; I wanted to push myself,” Elmer said.   He turned a corner when starting moving around again because it gave him the feeling of freedom. “I was so happy,” He said.

At discharge, Elmer was still on dialysis but required a fraction of the supplemental oxygen that he started with and could walk 50-75 feet with his walker. Elmer could also handle typical daily tasks such as showering with assistance as well as dressing and toileting.

Elmer walked out of the hospital with a walker and headed to an inpatient rehabilitation hospital for continued therapy, all of which put him one step closer to returning home to his family.