Battling Bruin: Yolanda

Posted July 2013

After battling with rheumatoid arthritis since her teens, life was finally looking up for Yolanda Perez. She and her husband had successfully raised both of their daughters and they had finished college and moved out of the house. Maintaining a life of “normalcy” hadn’t been without its challenges. A barrage of doctor’s visits and a multitude of surgeries. By the age of 50 she had already had four surgeries on her feet, one on her hand and both knees had undergone total knee replacement. Life was never going to be completely pain-free but with a good rheumatologist that was well versed in the latest modern medicines, and an ongoing devotion to aqua-motion exercises, at least she could function on a mostly normal level. Things were going so well that Yolanda decided to challenge herself by going back to school to become a medical assistant. It was New Years weekend 2006 that everything changed for the worse.

It was a routine day at work and the caseload was pretty light. Everyone was looking forward to the holidays. In the hustle and bustle, someone had moved some of the equipment around and the cords were a mess in the doctor’s examination room. As luck would have it, Yolanda was scheduled to assist on the next case and her foot caught on the cord and she tumbled to the ground striking the base of a nearby chair on her way down. She was rushed to the ER because it was a compound fracture and surgery had to be done.

The next four years were endless doctors visits. Arthritis is an autoimmune disease, so the healing of injuries or infections are challenging. The broken bone in Yolanda’s leg would not heal properly. This resulted in several more surgeries to place a steel plate to reinforce her leg. After several months, she caught an infection and as with any foreign object in the body, the infection settled into the area surrounding the plate. Another surgery was scheduled to remove the plate.

What happened next was truly inexplicable; the wound site of the surgery would not heal. The next 18 months were spent with various treatments. Any treatment option available was given a try; skin grafts, artificial cell therapy, at home wound care, and even hyperbaric chamber. Finally in 2011 the open wound in the leg was healed. One would hope that it would be the end of the story, but unfortunately it was not.

In July of 2011 Yolanda underwent spinal fusion surgery. The many years of arthritis, coupled with the lasting effects off too many medications had advanced her scoliosis and her discs were shot. They had to fuse from C5 to S1 (for those non-medical speakers that is from the base of your neck to below your waistband) Yolanda’s post-surgical present was her very own “zipper” scar.

Surgery went well, but adjusting to a life with such lack of range of motion took a lot of time and energy. Four months were spent in a live-in care facility before she was able to go home, and it was a full 10 months before she was able to walk with only the aid of a walker. Then just four days after Mother’s Day in 2012 the unthinkable happened, Yolanda suffered a transient ischemic attack, which is often referred to as a “mini-stroke”. Her speech was slightly slurred but all brain function was still there. The biggest deficit she faced is the weakening on the right side of her body, which meant she was no longer able to walk. She would have to go back to a live-in rehab facility. Her spirits remained high, as she was progressing quite rapidly, then right before Father’s Day a much stronger stroke occurred. Yolanda was devastated. It seems that any progress that had been made over the last few years was completely wiped out. The second stroke significantly weakened a lot of her strength and mobility. Simple tasks like writing and feeding herself were no longer possible. With months of hard work she was able to get those skills back, but the one thing that still evaded her was walking.

After months and months of physical therapy the underlying reason for Yolanda’s inability to walk was discovered. In addition to having continued weakness on her right side, her MCL was completely torn. Surgery would be required to fix it. As if another surgery wasn’t complicated enough, Yolanda’s knee had already been replaced with an artificial knee joint. At time of press, Yolanda and her team of doctors are still looking for the best solution to both repair the ligaments in her knee and replace the existing knee with a more stable artificial knee. She is hoping to undergo surgery over the summer and be rehabilitated enough to come cheer on her Bruins by the end of football season.

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