The Balancing Act of Recovery

As an emergency room nurse at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Jessica Bradley, RN, BA, provided care to countless of patients finding themselves in unexpected medical emergencies. But one morning on her way to work, Jessica found herself on the other side of the patient care after falling face first onto concrete.

Jessica (4) resized“When I got to work, it became clear something was wrong. It was strange to not acting as nurse but as a patient,” says Jessica. “I’ve always been in the position of taking care of other people, and being cared for is a position I never through I’d ever be in. It was very difficult having people take care of me.”

After a six hour evaluation, Jessica was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and concussion. The side effects of her medical conditions left her unable to function in her daily life.

“For the first few days, I couldn’t walk down the steps, or even close my eyes without feeling dizzy.  The side effects impacted every aspect of my life. My husband and family had to take care of me constantly,” said Jessica. “And I knew that in this condition I wouldn’t be able to function as a nurse. As a young person with four children to support, I was constantly worried I would never be able to function normally again.”

Jessica sought out treatment at the Penn Medicine Concussion Clinic to begin her recovery process. Under the care of Dr. Michael Rhee and Dr. Kelli Williams, she was referred to vestibular therapy through Penn Therapy & Fitness. Close to home, Jessica began twice a week physical therapy sessions at Penn Therapy and Fitness at Radnor with Helena Esmonde, PT, DPT.

For eight weeks, Helena worked with Jessica in regaining her life through rehabilitation.  Using infrared goggles, Helena was able to zero in on eye movements that indicated what areas to focus on during vestibular therapy.

“During outpatient therapy, I work with patients to create strategies to help navigate them through recovery so that they can return to their lives before injury,” says Helena, “By providing home exercises for patients to continue working on outside of therapy sessions, I aim to empower them to be able to manage their recovery to get back to the life best possible.”

Through a variety eye and head movement exercises, along with work in the Balance Master, Jessica’s symptoms began to decrease.

“My goals were to close my eyes, to be able to keep my balance while turning my head and walking. They were little things you take for granted,” said Jessica. “Initially, it was a slow subtle improvement. But as time went on, I was able to could walk go up and down steps without someone holding my hand. I was able to close my eyes without falling and I could pay attention again without getting easily distracted.”

Throughout her rehabilitation in the continuum of Penn Medicine, Jessica’s care team was able work together during her recovery.

“Being able to have the team approach with physicians helps connect everyone involved in our patients care,” said Helena, “We were able to have communication that allowed us to adapt to direct treatment in the most efficient and impactful way for Jessica.”

With the combination of physical therapy, home exercise and treatment from her physicians, Jessica began to see the light at the end of her tunnel that seemed bleak not so long ago.

Jessica (11) resized“I never thought something like that would happen to me. I didn’t realize how much I was impacted by that injury,” says Jessica. “There was awhile where I didn’t think I’d ever be okay again. It was a struggle that took a lot of work, but I was able to get my life back.”

Three months after her injury, Jessica was able to return to work with a new perspective of patient care.

“Before my injury I had no idea that vestibular therapy would be able to help concussion and traumatic brain injury. When people think of physical therapy, they think of riding treadmill or exercising. They don’t think of balance therapy,” says Jessica. “A lot of the attending physicians will come to me about recommendations for concussions. I tell them about the Penn Concussion Clinic and vestibular therapy at Penn Therapy and Fitness. A lot of people don’t realize they have this option available to them.”

Learn more about vestibular rehabilitation at Penn Therapy & Fitness.

Learn more about the Penn Medicine Concussion Clinic.

by Patrice Bendig