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Ruben: Returning to the Great Outdoors

The scenery was stunning—waterfalls and streams created an ideal site for hiking. Ruben Menchaca had always loved camping and being out in nature, but this time something was wrong.

His lower back was hurting, and not letting up. He thought it was from the long drive he and his wife took in their camper from Houston to North Carolina, but even after returning home the pain continued. Soon, he was having trouble walking.

Ruben visited several medical specialists over the next few weeks–from his primary care physician to a neurologist, but none could pinpoint the problem. By this time, he was paralyzed from the waist down.

“Finally, I saw an oncologist, and after looking at my scans, he told me that there was a tumor on my spinal cord and arranged for me to have surgery immediately,” said Ruben. “The surgeon told me that there was a good chance that I would never regain the use of my legs due to the amount of nerve damage…but right then I decided I would, indeed, walk again...and I’m pretty stubborn.”

After his surgery to remove the tumor and recovery at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, his wife researched rehabilitation hospitals, and decided Ruben should be transferred to Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Hospital – Katy for inpatient, and later outpatient, care.

“Only three days into my stay there I was able to wiggle my toes!” said Ruben.

Ruben’s occupational therapist at Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Hospital - Katy, Rachele Minor, OTR, said, “Ruben had a very weak lower body, and weak core/trunk. Sitting unsupported without falling backward, forward, or to either side was one of his first primary goals. This core strength is essential to steadily sit while eating, grooming, dressing, bathing, and toileting more independently.”

After a month in inpatient care, Ruben went home and transitioned to outpatient therapy. Ruben’s therapists began working towards his goals of caring for himself at home, and eventually returning to his love of camping.

“It was a lot of small steps, but the first time I stood up was the greatest feeling – I was teary eyed!” said Ruben.

Ruben’s physical therapist, Bhargav Dave, PT, DPT, DSc, CI, said, “We used LiteGait and Treadmill Supported Ambulation Training, Propioceptive NeuroMuscular Facilitation Training, and Neurodevelopmental Training–all of these methods are cutting-edge, evidence-based treatment approaches that helped him gain results.”

Before Ruben became ambulatory, occupational therapists (OTs) helped him strengthen his upper body in order to initially increase his transfers. OTs not only provided him the necessary adaptive equipment to help him dress independently, but also discussed safety and adaptive equipment recommendations for the home, like grab bar placement, and using a tub bench and drop arm bedside the commode.

There were some setbacks. A mishap while getting into his truck caused him to fall and break his arm. However, that break led doctors to the discovery that Ruben has multiple myeloma, which causes his bones to break easily. He had two months of chemotherapy, and now has regular bloodwork to monitor his condition.

But none of that completely stopped his progress. Ruben wanted to be able to get back into his camper so that his family could continue to go camping, just as they always had. Therapists made steps in the gym out of mats of similar height to resemble the steps he had to climb to enter his camper. After practicing on those, he is able to get into his ‘home away from home’ once again.

“With God’s grace and a ‘never say die’ attitude, today Ruben is able to walk as well as engage in his hobbies, recreational activities and outdoor life,” said Bhargav.