South Florida Hospital News
Sunday September 22, 2019
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December 2007 - Volume 4 - Issue 6

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Carmen Mata Ė A Victimís Return to Life

2007 has been a truly rough year for Carmen Mata. When it began, the 68-year-old native of the Dominican Republic was living very independently, sharing a small efficiency apartment with her sister. She was energetic and active, supporting herself by selling fitness clothing at a flea market. Then, in February, she was waiting at the bus stop when she was hit by a car driven by an uninsured illegal alien. Her life had turned into a living nightmare from one moment to next.

Carmen was rushed to the Trauma Intensive Care Unit at Jackson Memorial. She had a massive "open book" pelvic fracture, both her legs were virtually destroyed, and she had serious neck and spinal damage. Doctors kept her in an induced coma for nearly a month while they struggled to save her legs and stabilize her system. When she finally came to, she was in horrific pain and found herself covered in tubes and totally unable to move, her pelvis and hips held together by an external fixator encircling her torso. She heard she would never walk again. Although her support network included a devoted sister and a nephew and niece who are both psychologists, nothing could console Carmen for her suffering and all she had lost.


(l-r) Miami Jewish Home and Hospital staff psychologist Dr. Mairelys Martinez; Carmen Mata; Pam Horn, Director of Rehabilitative Services

Carmen was transferred to the Miami Jewish Home and Hospitalís Toppel Rehabilitation Center for individuals requiring skilled nursing services, rehabilitation, or a sub-acute level of care, on April 4, 2007. MJHH staff psychologist Dr. Mairelys Martinez recalls, "When I first saw Carmen, she was lying in bed with the curtains closed screaming in pain, completely bed-bound. She was frantic, totally unable to move. She was probably our most severe case ever. Typically, what we see here is someone who is 60 or 70 with a hip fracture." Dr. Martinez began working with Carmen, listening to her express her pain and frustration, slowly, patiently forging a relationship and helping Carmen to hope again. She arranged for medication for anxiety and depression, and enlisted the aid of Pam Horn, OTR, director of MJHHís Rehabilitative Services Department.

Then began an amazing effort on the part of Hornís staff of rehab therapists to return Carmen Mata to life, at first helping her to painstakingly extend her range of motion while lying in bed, and, after her external fixator was removed in July, to regain the ability to perform simple activities of daily living most people take for granted. Then she began to walk again, supporting herself on parallel bars and with the help of a walker. Thanks to the dedication of the rehab staff and Carmenís passion to regain her independence, by September Ė barely more than six months after her catastrophic accident Ė she was walking over 200 feet with a walker and was able to get in and out of bed on her own.

Carmen recalls her first meeting with Juan Blas, RPT, who became her principal rehab therapist: "Juan asked me what I wanted him to do. I told him, ĎHelp me be like I was.í" Dr. Martinez credits much of Carmenís recovery to "Juanís amazing abilities as a physical therapist, Carmenís incredible determination, and a sprinkle of the miraculous."

Long after Carmenís insurance has run out, Blas and the other therapists in Hornís department continued to rehab Carmen at no cost. "Itís one of those things that we feel we should do," Horn says. Medicaid now pays for Carmenís nursing home bed only at MJHH, but she dreams of regaining her independence, of having a car and a disability card so she can park it. Even above and beyond the formidable physical challenges still facing her, though, Carmen faces long odds. Her old apartment has a step-down which she canít maneuver. She needs a knee replacement she canít pay for. She needs financial help in general, and she canít work anymore.

Nevertheless, Carmen Mataís comeback already has been truly amazing. "She has done a total turnaround," says Pam Horn, "from lying in bed in a very depressed state to walking and having an awesome mental attitude." "Carmen has been a true success story," says Juan Blas. "She never gave up, even when it seemed too hard and unrealistic."

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