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Stepping out in style

Posted: March 20, 2014 4:48 p.m.
Updated: March 21, 2014 5:00 a.m.

“I’m going to walk out of here on March 3rd.”

At just past 11:30 on that drizzly spring morning, Randy “Rainbow” Player made good on his promise. With the assistance of a rolling walker and his wife, Paulette, he left the Karesh wing of KershawHealth under his own power and headed home after nearly eight months in hospitals and rehabilitation centers. It was a journey many thought he would never accomplish.

Last summer, the former forestry equipment salesman was an active retiree who enjoyed hunting, fishing, and playing golf. “I had some arthritis and a little back pain, but that didn’t bother me much,” he says. He’d even had an annual physical which turned up nothing out of the ordinary.

Then one day in July, things changed. Suddenly, he was in enormous pain. He soon found himself unable to stand and even had to use a wheelchair. Taken to the KershawHealth emergency room, it was discovered that he had several herniated disks; they had abscessed, leading to a potentially deadly staph infection in his bloodstream. “I was at death’s door at that point,” he notes.

Admitted to the intensive care unit at KershawHealth, the bloodstream infection was brought under control and he was medically stabilized before being transferred to Columbia for back surgery two weeks later. Even with powerful antibiotics, it took four operations before the surgeon was finally able to clear out all of the infected tissue in his spine. The surgeon hoped he would regain use of his legs, but could make no promises.

“I wanted him to come home to Karesh right after his surgeries, because I’ve known lots of people who’ve been here and they always have gotten great care,” says Paulette. “But everyone felt he would do better in a really specialized facility, so we did that.”

Player spent three months in a specialized long-term rehabilitation hospital in Columbia, followed by a three-week stay at another short-term rehabilitation hospital. Still, he was unable to walk, or even stand. In addition, he’d lost 70 pounds through the ordeal. At that point, Player feared he would be a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Just before Thanksgiving, he was transferred to RACE Rehab at Karesh Long Term Care for a final round of therapy. That’s when things began to change. Physical therapist Timothy Hornsby, rehab manager at Karesh, had already plotted a plan of attack to build up Player’s strength and spirits. He and his staff were confident they could get Player moving again.

“The very first day, Tim told me, ‘You’re going to stand up today,’” Player remembers. “I told him there was no way. I was just too weak.” But with the help of assistive equipment that lifted him upright, Player did stand, if only for moments. From that day on, the entire staff rallied around him to offer encouragement and assistance, and each day he stood a little longer. Eventually, he was able to stand all on his own.

At one point, Player developed unusual pain in his legs; an MRI found blood clots in both legs, which were quickly treated. Rehab continued to progress, if slowly at times. Hornsby and the other therapists kept pushing and encouraging him. Player admits it wasn’t fun, and he was discouraged at times, but the constant support of his wife, friends, and the Karesh staff made all the difference.

“We wouldn’t have made it without all the support we got from everyone,” notes Paulette, who manages a local women’s fitness center. “They prayed and called and visited, sent cards, brought meals … even gave me gas cards for all those trips back and forth to Columbia. It was just incredible.”

By coincidence, Player was in the same room once occupied by Paulette’s mother, Doris Hancock, who was a nurse at KershawHealth and a Karesh resident. “I knew what it was like here -- you can just feel the love they have for you,” she says. “They’ve done more for Randy here than anywhere we’ve been.”

When Randy Player took his first tentative steps using a walker on January 13, members of the Karesh staff were there to give him a hand and celebrate with the couple. After that, his therapy focused on building strength lost from months spent in bed or a wheelchair, walking a bit more each day, and occupational therapy to strengthen his upper body. Of course, it’s hard to underestimate the impact of his own fighting spirit and the encouragement he drew from even the smallest accomplishments.

Today, Randy Player continues his therapy and recovery at home, waiting on warmer weather and the chance to take a walk down the street. After the events of the past year, that’s a walk he’ll truly appreciate.

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