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  • Dori Nissenson

Got Hope?

Connor's Story

I always knew that my role as a physical therapist was rewarding: healing people and allowing them to return to their “life”.

BUT, until I met my patient Connor W., I did not realize how rewarding my job could really be. Connor was referred to me through a mutual health care professional. Over the last 3 years that I have been treating him, Connor has taught me so much about positive thinking, maintaining perspective, and how not to give up your goal, even if the journey sucks. I am a lucky woman to have met and to treat Connor. I am so unbelievably inspired by his unending positive energy and desire to heal and give to others all the while, that I feel compelled to share his story with you.

In 2013 Connor a healthy 25-year-old, began having what he thought were panic attacks. His mother became concerned and sent him to a therapist to talk about his “anxiety". Shortly after beginning psychotherapy, Connor sustained a grand mal seizure and was rushed to the hospital. It became apparent that what everyone thought were panic attacks were actually petit mal seizures and that the cause of all of these seizures was brain cancer.

Brain cancer???

All his life, Connor has been an elite athlete. He grew up playing baseball and swimming competitively. He attended Notre Dame University where he continued to swim competitively and graduate with a solid GPA. He moved to Greenwich Connecticut after graduation and worked as a swim coach and later started working at a hedge fund as a research associate.

And now brain cancer?

What Could Be Worse?

Connor underwent two surgeries to remove the glioma tumor that was growing in his brain. The first surgery was in October of 2013 but not all of the tumor was removed. Connor went back to the OR in August of 2015 to remove the remainder of the tumor. It was during this surgery that Connor sustained a stroke leaving him without the use of his left arm and leg...

This was how it became worse.

I met Connor in September of 2016. When I arrived at his house for his initial evaluation, he greeted me with a smile and he and his mother told me his story. At this time, Connor was cancer-free and was having regular brain MRIs to make sure the cancer did not return. I was immediately impressed that this 28-year-old man whose life changed so drastically with his cancer diagnosis and then changed drastically again when he sustained his stroke, was still so positive.

He had been through so much at such an early age and in such a short period of time.

But….. Connor did not complain, he was not sad, he was not angry.

He was just positive.

He said to me: “This could have been worse."

At his initial assessment, Connor had just stopped using a walker and had just begun to learn how to walk with a cane. He was not safe or independent with the cane, could not go up or down stairs and had very poor neuro-muscular control of his left upper and lower extremity.

I designed a treatment program that focused on the following:

1. re-establishing neuro-muscular control of his core or “trunk” as we in the neuro treatment world say

2. neuro-muscular re-education of his left upper and lower extremity through advanced handling techniques

3. soft tissue and joint mobilization to create more mobility on his affected side

4. balance training in different positions and on different surfaces to prepare him for re-integration into the community

5. walking training with the cane with a plan to progress to using no assistive device for walking

6. stair climbing using one banister and the cane


Connor Worked So Hard In His Treatment Sessions

  • He worked through his left shoulder pain.

  • He worked through tremors in his arm and leg that challenged his balance and ability to walk.

  • He worked through the difficult and frustrating treatment activities that I designed for him.

  • He worked through the fear that the brain cancer may come back.

  • He worked through the reality that his left arm and leg may not get 100% better...

He Was Just Positive

But... Connor did not complain, he was not sad, he was not angry.

He was just positive.

In his spare time, Connor worked at his home exercises for his hemiparetic arm and leg AND volunteered his time at the Boy's Club, helping other people heal.

During our sessions, we would chat about life and our problems, concerns, family and careers. Connor always had a positive spin on any issue that I laid out in front of him. His endless patience with his physical and emotional barriers, and his rehab progress, which at times was slow, never discouraged him.

In working with Connor, I couldn’t help thinking and telling myself: if this person can be so positive when life seemed so hard, then I certainly can be as well. The things that bothered me, got under my skin, and caused me so much stress... seemed, all of a sudden, so trivial and 100% manageable with a little perspective. I keep hearing him in my head:

“This could have been worse."

Connor continues to have physical therapy with me twice a week. He is no longer using any assistive devices and he is able to run, swim, and play golf. He is networking with friends to get back into his former career and he still volunteers at the Boy's Club.

Connor also continues to remind me that you can’t decide what life will bring you but you CAN decide what to do with it.

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