A place to recapture joy

April 27, 2021 Providence News Team

When Peter Ahlstrom awoke from liver transplantation surgery at UCLA Medical Center on August 15, he was grateful to have a second chance at life. In the days leading up to his transplantation, he had been near death due to liver failure. But his happiness at receiving a new liver was tempered in those early days after surgery. Sick for years, and in pain from the surgery, he felt as though he would never leave his bed.

“After the surgery at UCLA, they were urging me to get out of bed,” recalls Ahlstrom, 60. “I told them, ‘I can’t get out of bed.’ I was hallucinating and in pain.”

Two weeks later, still frail and unable to walk, Ahlstrom was transferred to the Acute Rehabilitation Center at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center San Pedro. That’s when he began to understand that his new liver was truly a gift and that he could recover his zest for life.

“That was one of the best services you can expect as a patient,” says the Studio City man. “Those people were so incredible. They were there 24/7.”

Since 2015, UCLA has been transferring patients who have undergone an organ (heart, lung, liver) transplant to our Acute Rehab and Subacute Care Centers for their care. The Acute Rehab Center is nationally ranked by the Uniform Data System for Medical Rehabilitation (UDSMR) and provides a broad range of services to patients with stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury, multiple trauma, amputation, neurological disorders or transplantation, and patients on ventilators or who have respiratory failure or other conditions.

“Acute rehab is the highest level of intensity of rehabilitation,” says Huong-anh Ngo Long, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist. “It’s an interdisciplinary approach including physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, dietitians, nurses, psychologists, rehab physicians and internists.”

Our 20-bed center has earned numerous accreditations and recognitions, reflecting our multidisciplinary and comprehensive programs. But the center’s patients succeed because of our staff’s compassionate and understanding approach to rehabilitation. That staff includes Steven Hanna Sheety, MD, a highly experienced physiatrist. Upon arrival, our patients receive a comprehensive evaluation that includes not only physical functioning but nutritional, cognitive and psychological assessments.

“We look at the patient as a whole,” Dr. Long says. “All of our patients come to us in crisis because of some life-changing experience. Their lives fall apart suddenly. When they come to us, they are trying to survive. At the beginning, they can only think about one day at a time. Our goal is to help them think about tomorrow and about going home and what they are going to do at home.”

Care is tailored to the patient’s exact needs, she says. For example, transplant patients are typically medically complex. “They take about 20 different medications across the day,” Dr. Long explains. “Blood sugar levels are checked four times a day. Medication blood levels are checked frequently. These patients are medically fragile. They are immunosuppressed and can get infections easily. They have to be followed very closely.”

Prior to discharge, our Acute Rehab Center staff works with family members to help them prepare for the homecoming and even assesses the patient’s house to ensure it’s safe and accessible. By that time, Dr. Long says, the patient and rehab staff have established a relationship of trust.

Ahlstrom spent two weeks at the Acute Rehab Center, where he learned to walk again, manage his pain and laugh.

“They were always so happy,” he says of the rehab staff. “I like being around happy people. At times, there were four or five people in my room having a good laugh. It gives you so much energy.”

Every day, Ahlstrom says, he inched closer to his goals, working at the center’s gym with his therapists. A youth soccer coach, he is awaiting the day he can return to the pitch with the kids. At home, he continues to recover with the help of home-health nursing visits and passes the time playing the piano. He praises the empathy shown by his wife, Marci, the UCLA transplant team and the “angels” at the Acute Rehab Center.

“It’s a place of joy even when it hurts,” he says. “There are so many knowledgeable people. They understand what you’re going through.”

For more information on the Acute Rehab Center, call 844-925-0942 or visit www.providence.org/locations/plcm-san-pedro/sub-acute-care-center.

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