Paul “Don” Simon is a 79-year old retired firefighter and family man who has lived in the same neighborhood in Granite City, IL his entire life. He enjoys doing yard work, spending time with his wife, Karen, and keeping up with family and many friends. One spring day, Don began experiencing severe lower back pain and was taken to Missouri Baptist Medical Center. Tests and imaging determined that Don was suffering from discitis of the lumbar spine, a kind of spinal inflammation that can cause irritation and swelling of the spine's surrounding vertebrae, joints and tissues. In Don’s case, he was also suffering from osteomyelitis, an infection with inflammation of the bone or the bone marrow, which commonly occurs with discitis.
Don spent the next eight weeks on IV antibiotics to eliminate the infection in his spine. While in the hospital, he suffered several other serious medical complications that left him immobile and in pain. Don was moved to Select Specialty Hospital – Town and Country, a critical illness recovery hospital, located within Missouri Baptist Medical Center to continue treatment and gain enough strength for the next step in his healing journey.
After a month at Select Specialty Hospital, Don was stable, but was still struggling with pain and was fighting depression as he worried that the next step might be a nursing home. He was also having a hard time eating and had lost a good amount of weight, which contributed to his overall weakness.
It was recommended that Don transfer to SSM Health Rehabilitation Hospital – Bridgeton. It was a light at the end of his tunnel. Upon arrival, Don’s physician-led team of physical and occupational therapists gave him hope that he would be able to fully recover and regain his independence, which lifted his spirits.
Physical and occupational therapists worked with Don to increase strength and endurance, and improve mobility. “I never thought I would forget how to walk,” Don recalled. After his first few therapy sessions, Don’s fears of going to a nursing home disappeared – he knew that he would be able to improve and return home. “The therapists aren’t just there to draw a paycheck. They really do care about you getting better,” Don said as he remarked about how they encouraged him to keep a positive attitude. “Everyone treated me like gold.”
Don also credits Karen, his wife of nearly 52 years and a retired nurse, for her unwavering support and devotion during his illness and recovery, which included 87 days spent in three hospitals. He also had high praise for the “absolutely delicious” food at SSM Health Rehabilitation Hospital – Bridgeton, which helped his appetite return and gave him the needed strength to fully participate in therapy.
“I had lost hope after so many days in the hospital but therapy helped me regain hope again,” Don said. He offers the following advice to others facing recovery from a serious illness: “Pay attention to your therapists because they are working to make your life better. I saw other people at rehab who were much worse off than me which inspired me to work harder.”
By mid-July, after just over two weeks at SSM Health Rehabilitation Hospital – Bridgeton, Don was ready to return home while he continued his rehabilitation at the SSM Health Day Institute. He completed the program at the Day Institute in October and is enjoying being at home with his wife, doing chores around the house and spending time with his grandchildren.